For a coffee lover like me it may seem strange to talk about a beverage that I always drank but never felt very strongly about. Until I came to Iran that is.
When you live in a country for a few years and you immerse yourself in its culture the way I always try to do, there are certain traditions you may end up adopting. These will in turn enrich your own.
Iranians love their tea at anytime time of the day and in every occasion. Rain or shine, hot or cold, there will always be a tea pot brewing somewhere.
Usually it is the first thing you are offered when you visit someone. In Iran, families and friends build their memories around a cup of tea. As one Iranian said “The memories are like pictures tagged by the teas that were experienced”.
Brewing is important, usually there is a samovar or water kettle with boiling water and on top a tea pot where the tea is kept warm and brewing. The secret is in the amount and quality of water you add. It has to be just the right amount depending on individual taste. Children will always have a clearer tea, less strong for their young palate.
You drink it with a cube of sugar pressed between your teeth which will melt away and make the tea just sweet enough. There are also crystalized sugar sticks flavored with saffron which I often use. It is very comforting and saffron also helps with digestion. The perfect cup of tea for me.
The first tea leaves are said to have arrived in Iran through the Silk Road from India but coffee was the preferred beverage at that time. It was only after the 15th Century that it gradually became popular.
Successful cultivation was only achieved much later in 1895 by an Iranian diplomat who brought seedlings from India to his home province of Gilan.
I will never forget the first time I saw the tea slopes of Lahijan in the Gilan province. The green clumps of the tea bushes overlooking the rice fields further afield were just beautiful.
When you walk amongst the bushes, there is a wonderful scent all around. The young leaves are packed together waiting for the harvest which is usually in May.
Whenever I hike in Iran to some remote castle or mountain slope, I know there will always be tea being offered on the way. Different types of samovars and tea pots will be steaming away, waiting for the tired traveller who will eventually stop for a few minutes to regain his/her breath and find comfort in a cup of tea.
I would never go for tea when it’s hot before but now I find myself saying yes to a so called mountain tea or any other kind being offered by a tea maker who in his very limited English if any, smiles and points at the brewing pots. In the Gilan province you can find everywhere the different local teas that you can buy, take home, brew and prolong the pleasure.
I sit with my steaming tea that slightly burns my fingers and look at the sights surrounding me. Iran’s beauty never ceases to amaze me. I observe the people laughing and talking, all of us sharing a cup of tea.
These are the moments I will always cherish about Iran. Being in tune with nature and the people, feeling safe and comforted by a warm cup of tea!
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