Every morning, in houses all over Iran, a gas burner flickers to life under a kettle that will continue to boil all day. It boils through morning prayers, lunches of rice and kebabs, afternoon conversation and late into the evening meal, sustaining talk of politics, gossip and news well into the night.
The kettle contains tea, one of the most important cornerstones of Iranian culture, and the tea house is its centuries-old keeper.
Tea houses, or chaikhanehs, have been in existence since the Persian empire. They gained prominence after the 15th century, when coffee was abandoned in favour of tea leaves that were easier to come by through China’s silk road.
Though once the purview of men, chaikhanehs have increasingly become frequented by all members of society, and especially by Iran’s large youth population. In a country that officially prohibits clubs or bars, the chaikhaneh is one of the closest public things to a “chill out” venue teenagers can retreat to.
Even in socially conservative cities such as Yazd, a centuries-old cultural stronghold in the middle of the country, mixed groups of teenagers will stop for a tea and a meal at the local tea house.
Iranian tea comes in a variety of subtle flavours, but its defining characteristic is its deep reddish-brown colour, which tea-drinkers can choose to dilute with water depending on their preference. Despite its cultivation in the country’s northern provinces, other te… >>>