Tea drinking in Iran is a little like learning to play the clarinet. It is all about moisture and airflow. And sugar.
When you order tea in Iran the silver tray arrives with not one, or two, but three kinds of sugar. Not throw-away paper packets but an arrangement of gleaming, sparkling crystal bowls.
Ordering tea in this country makes me want to become a better person.
The first sugar is called ‘qand’. Qand is a kind of smooth, white sugar torpedo that is chiseled with an ice pick until it shatters into small, jagged pieces. Each piece is dusted with powdery sediment and sizzles just slightly when you place it on your tongue.
Next to the qand is ‘nabat’. Clear, saffron-coloured rocks of sugar, nabat looks like stack of amethysts waiting to be polished for the fingers of the wives of desert princes. Recommended for everything from headaches and upset stomach to a slump in libido or difficulties in fathering children – nabat appears to possess magical powers.
Finally, next to nabat is humble granulated sugar. Pass.
Now comes the tricky part: an elegant little two step called the clamp and sip.
The tea drinker selects the sugar and carefully places it between the front teeth. Biting down with just the right pressure, a glass of tea is then raised to the mouth and sipped through the sugar which sweetens the tea as it passes through the lips.
A little noise is permissible but slurping, drooling or gulping most certainly is not.
Nestling into a stack of pillows like a sultan while sipping is optional but highly recommended.