First Iranian who set up the First Tea Plantations in Iran


Originally published online in 2009

INTRODUCTION: Although the tradition of drinking imported tea (mostly from India and China) among some groups of people in Iran trace back to the end of 15th century, the cultivation of this plant in order to market a native product was actually started around one century ago. It was only at the beginning of the 20th century that the first crop of Iranian tea was produced and sold on the local market. The reliable documents indicate that the tea plantations in Iran were firstly set up by Mohammad Mirza Kashefolsaltaneh (MMK) in Lahijan, a region in the northern province of Gilan between 1895 and 1902. At the time, MMK was about 30 years old and he was working as an officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (in Persian: Vezaarat-e Omor-e Khaarejeh). In this article, the life story and the works of MMK as the First Iranian who Set Up the First Tea Plantations in Iran will be briefly studied and discussed.

HIS EARLY LIFE: MMK was born to Asadollah Nayebol-Eyaleh (ANE) and Jahan Aara Azizolsaltaneh (JAA) in the first day of Iranian calendar on 21 March 1865. He was born in Torbat-e Heydarieh, a city in the Razavi Khorasan province of Iran. It may be worthy to note that his birthplace Torbat-e Heydarieh is a city which is famous for its Saffron (in Persian: Zafaran), and it is currently among the first rank places in the world for producing Saffron. MMK’s mom JAA was the first child of Prince Ghahreman Mirza who was the son of Abass Mirza, the Crown Prince to Fath Ali Shah Qajar (ruled 1797-1834). In 1866, ANE and JAA along with the newborn MMK moved to Tehran, the capital city of Iran, and resided in a house next to the Golesstan Palace.
HIS EDUCATION: In Tehran, while MMK was about 6 to 7 years old his parents hired a mentor to teach him Persian Literature and Arabic Language. MMK then completed his high school education in Darolfonoon which was the best scientific and technical institution of Iran at the time. It was in Darolfonoon where he also learned French Language and the principles of various Sciences and Techniques.
HIS EARLY WORKS: At 16 and upon his graduation from Darolfonoon, MMK joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) where he worked as the Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Nassorlah Khan Moshiroldoleh. In 1881, MMK was appointed as the Second Secretary (in Persian: Dabir-e Douvom) to the Iranian Embassy in Paris, France. Over there, while working in the Embassy he also started to study Law in the University of Paris (Sorbonne) where he got his BA degree in Administrative Law. In 1886, he was promoted as the First Deputy to the Iranian Ambassador to France. In 1889 after eight years living in Paris, MMK was called to return to Tehran and he was appointed as the Special Secretary to translate French to Persian as Dr Fevrier, the Royal Court Physician, was giving medical advice to Naserddin Shah Qajar (ruled 1848-1896).
In 1894, MMK left the Royal Court and he was then appointed as the Khorasan Deputy Governor (in Persian: Nayebol-Eyaleh or Moaaven-e Ostandaar) working in his birthplace Torbat-e Heydarieh. In 1895, at the age of 30, MMK married to Gohar-e Graan Maayeh. In the same year, Mohsen Khan Moshiroldoleh appointed him as the Consul to the Iranian Consulate General located in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India. In 1897 when he was back to Iran, he set up the first tea plantations in the country. In 1904, he left Iran for Paris where he worked as the Minister Plenipotentiary (in Persian: Vazir Mokhtar) of Iran to France. In 1906, MMK was called back home where he was appointed as the first Mayor of Tehran. In 1908, he resigned as the mayor of Tehran and resumed his works at MFA.
HIS EFFECTIVE ROLE ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF TEA INDUSTRY IN IRAN: As the Consul of Iran to India under British rule, MMK knew the Brits would not allow him to learn about the secrets of tea production, as it was their biggest business in India in those periods of time. So being fluent in French, MMK pretended to be a French laborer and started to work at the tea plantations and factories in India to learn how to produce tea. Ultimately his plan was to take back some samples of Indian tea to Iran to cultivate. He was successful in this endeavor only because of his diplomatic immunity which stopped the Brits from searching his secretly stashed samples. In 1897, he brought those samples together with the vases of various plants like coffee (in Persian: Ghahveh), pepper (in Persian: Felfel), cannabis (in Persian: Shahdaaneh), kenaf or hemp (in Persian: Kanaf), cinnamon (in Persian: Darchin), cardamom (in Persian: Hel), mango (in Persian: Anbeh), quinine (in Persian: Ganeh Ganeh), Camphor (in Persian: Kafoor) , turmeric (in Persian: Zard Choobeh), and ginger (in Persian: Zanjebil) to Iran. He set up the first tea plantations in Lahijan, a region in the province of Gilan. Plantations then developed rapidly in other parts of Gilan, and the places located between the south shore of the Caspian Sea and the Albourz Mountains.
In every tea plantation that MMK established in Gilan, many farmers and laborers could get some training in different aspects of tea cultivation. MMK also made a trip to Russia in 1902 and hired two tea experts to work and to assist in the training programs of the plantations. Around the early years of the reign of Reza Shah Pahlavi (1925-1941) who initiated reforms marking the beginning of the modernization of Iran, an authoritative governmental office named as Tea Organization (in Persian: Sazmaan-e Chai) was founded and MMK was asked to direct it. As the Director of the Tea Organization he developed cultivation and production of tea in many parts of Gilan and the south shore of the Caspian Sea. Besides, MMK welcomed a group of Chinese experts as the advisors to the Tea Organization. He also made the arrangements to get the Chinese tea seeds and to purchase some Chinese Agricultural Machineries to be used in the plantations. As the result of much endeavor, the Tea Industry of Iran grew and developed rapidly when MMK was in charge. MMK was probably one of those guys who always whispered: “You got to believe that your effort can make a difference”!
Today, most Iranians know MMK as the Father of the Tea Industry of Iran (in Persian: Pedar-e Sanat-e Chai-e Iran).
HIS END: It is documented that MMK’s life was ended due to a car accident in 1928. The accident which is still a mystery occurred on a road between Bushire and Shiraz in southern province of Fars. His tomb is located on a hillock overlooking the tea plantations of Lahijan and it is now a part of the Iran Tea Museum (in Persian: Moozeh-e Chai-e Iran).

Michael Rubin from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy noted that, “On 20 February 2001, hundreds of farmers growing tea in the Caspian Sea region demonstrated in front of the Department of Agriculture headquarters in Lahijan. They were protesting the importation of tea from abroad in deals arranged by relatives of high-level government officials. According to the protestors, more than 1000 Iranian tea plantations have gone bankrupt in recent months”. And about six years later on 16 September 2007, Nima Akbarpour referred to the mismanagements observed in the Tea Museum of Iran and noted that many precious papers and documents displayed there have lost their fine qualities and they have been almost destroyed due to the exposure of the strong emissions of light and high level of humidity inside the museum.
Every single bone in the buried corpse of Kashefol Saltaneh within his grave is shivering as he witnesses all those unpleasant events happening in his sight!

Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD

Akbarpour, N. (2007): Online Note on the Tea Museum in Lahijan, Osyan Net Website (in Persian).
ITTO Website (2009): Online Note and Image of Kashefol Saltaneh Tomb.
Kasraian, N. and Arshi, Z. (1995): The North of Iran, ed., Sekeh Press, Iran, (in Persian).
Kazemi, S. (1995): Haji Mirza Kashefol Saltaneh, ed., Sayeh Publications, Iran, (in Persian).
Rubin, M. (2001): Online Article on Iran’s Burgeoning Discontent.
Saadat Noury, M. (2005): Online Note on Fath Ali Shah Qajar: About 17 Cities in the Collection of the Missing Moments.
Saadat Noury, M. (2007): Various Articles on the History of Iran.
Saadat Noury, M. (2008): Online Articles on Science.
Saadat Noury, M. (2009): Online Articles on First Iranians.
Tea Website (2009): Online Notes on “Tea Producing Countries: From the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea”.
Various Sources (2009): Notes and News on Mohammad Mirza Kashefolsaltaneh.
Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2009): Online Note on Kashefolsaltaneh (in Persian).


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