Drinking in Iran | Tea for Tu (تو) and Me!

Chai chá cháy chayee Persian tea in estakn served with rock candy (nabat) and dainty almond cookied

Persian tea with almond cookies & Nabat (rock candy)

Let’s fire up that samovar and brew some fragrant tea (or chayee as we say in Farsi) for this second installment of “Drinking in Iran” — a photo-essay series that documents some of the tasty drinks aka nooshidani yours truly had to sip, gulp, swig, imbibe, devour, knock back, taste, or merely gaze at covetously during my sentimental, epic trip to Iran; and that in the bargain, attempts to explore the people and culture of Iran and share some travel stories with you as well!

So grab some habe ‘ye ghand (sugar cubes) or something equally sweet, kick back, and let’s enjoy some good old fashioned chayee, Persian style!

Chayee (tea) چای

Samavar kettles Chai chá cháy chayee Persian tea tea Persian Tehran Iran kitchen of House of the Artists Chayee

Samavar & tea brewing at “House of the Artists” | Tehran, Iran

Tea is the most common, ubiquitous drink in Iran. Whether in someone’s home, in a stall in the bazaar, or in the kitchen of the House of the Artists (aka khaneh ye Honarmandan), there’s always a kettle or samovar gently boiling and bubbling and dreamily humming; and there’s always a pot of tea either being made or a cup of tea being sipped. That’s just the way it goes.

Chai chá cháy chayee Persian tea samovar persian tea cups sugar cubes Saadabad Palace

Royal Kitchen’s Samovar and Tea Tray | Saaadabad Palace | Tehran Iran

This samavar and tea service are on display at what used to be the kitchen compound of the Pahlavi Dynasty’s summer palace (Sa’ad Abad Palace – in the northern part of Tehran) which has now been turned into a museum. Note the special type of glass tea cups – which we call ‘estekan’ — and the pair of sugar cubes next to the estekan.

sugar cubes cookies ghand shirini shomali persian sweets for Chai chá cháy chayee Persian tea

Shirini shomali (sweets) & sugar cubes (habeh ye ghand) | Persian tea

Tea may be a global beverage – entirely commonplace – but drinking tea in Iran is made less ordinary because of the nicety of the associated rituals – such as the touches of sweets served alongside with this familiar beverage.

Sugar cubes are the most common and traditional way to sweeten tea. The old-fashioned way (but not chic, darling!) of having sugar cubes with tea is not to stir and dissolve it but to bite and suck the sugar cube between one’s teeth while taking sips of tea. It’s kind of fun to do but the sound effects and required facial mannerisms make it clear why the practice is frowned-upon-in-elegant-society. I like my tea with milk and no sugar (blashphemy, I know) but if I did like my tea sweet, I wouldn’t have minded occasionally practicing this method on the sly in private to my heart’s content. Elegance be damned!

Chai chá cháy chayee Persian tea tut persian marzipan mulberry antique silver spoon tea cup beautiful Tehran

Beautiful tea cup, antique silver spoon and tut – tea, Persian style!

As a guest in someone’s home, there are many dainty ways to sweeten the tea. Like this tea served with sparkly homemade ‘tut’ (Persian marzipaln mulberries) that I got to enjoy during a Persian new year ‘did va bazdid‘ visit with my lovely friend’s elegant family. (Note the beautiful antique silver spoon!)

mehmooni Persian party tea pastry shirini Chai chá cháy chayee Persian tea

Persian tea party! (Mehmooni)

Better grab that estekan ‘eh chayee while it’s nice and hot!

Chai chá cháy chayee Persian tea tea tray with assorted Persian sweet and Qajar tea pot in Shiraz Iran

Tea Tray with sweets in Shiraz with a Qajar Gent

In a trendy café, chayee may be served on a cute tray with nabat and almond cookies.

In Shiraz, a festive meal in a garden with live music (while seating and eating cross-legged family style on a kilim-covered wooden platform) culminated – to my heart’s delight – with a tray laden with assorted sweets and an adorable ersatz tea pot adorned with the portrait of a grumpy mustachioed Qajar royal gent.

Chai chá cháy chayee Persian tea Park Melat Tehran Iran

A typical sweet served with tea is nabat, aka rock candy. These days, nabat is served on a stick (much like a lollipop) that one dunks in the tea (a modern iteration of an old-fashioned idea) and stirs until it dissolves. A charming way to sweeten one’s tea.

This was at the lake front cafeteria of the very scenic Park ‘e Melat (formerly Park ‘e Shah ‘anshahee.)

Chai chá cháy chayee Persian tea Tea nabat cafe tehran Iran trendy food blogger Simi kitchen friend meeting

Simi dunking nabat in tea | Tehran, Iran

Sometimes it was not the nabat (rock candy) but the charming sweetness of the company that made the tea special. Like meeting (for the first time in real life!) the lovely Simi, fellow Iranian food blogger and now dear friend in a trendy Tehrani café at (Bagh ‘eh Ferdows) Ferdows Garden. [The Full account of meeting Simi and another lovely Persian food blogger friend in Tehran coming up one of these days!]

bagh 'e Ferdows coffee shop hanging out Chai chá cháy chayee Persian tea

Tea at Bagh ‘e Ferdows | Tehran, Iran

While I’m at it, may as well add this photo of yours truly (in the middle) sandwiched between gorgeous family friends. This was also at Bagh ‘eh Ferdows, but in the front garden.

Chai chá cháy chayee Persian tea tea bag persian kooloocheh road trip Caspian Iran

tea bag with kooloocheh shomali on Caspian sea road trip

Sometimes it was the company, the kooloocheh and the scenery that made even a weak tea-bag-brew an unforgettable cuppa’ for the books!

This was on the way back to Tehran after a road trip to shomal  – the beautiful Caspian sea region.

Chasing kaleh pacheh  with chai va limoo | Tehran, Iran

Chasing kaleh pacheh with chai va limoo | Tehran, Iran

Sometimes, tea with lemon was just a utilitarian workhorse.

The only way to chase a rich breakfast of kaleh pacheh! (I may have mentioned this already, but kaleh pacheh was the very first thing I had to eat when I arrived in Iran. At the crack of dawn! It was awesome! )

Lemon tea & honeysuckles in a garden in Yazd, Iran

Lemon tea & honeysuckles in a garden in Yazd, Iran

And sometimes tea with lemon with a friend in a garden blooming with fragrant honeysuckles in the ancient city of Yazd was nothing short of magical … a tangible ode to the dizzying perfection of a moment in life. Sip, sip, sip! I’ll drink to that!

Until we next meet, wishing you the perfectly brewed perfect-temperature tea with the au juste sweet pairing.

For now, khoda hafez!


32 thoughts on “Drinking in Iran | Tea for Tu (تو) and Me!

  1. Very nice post as always, Azita.
    Ever since I traveled to China I have been taking my tea black and unsweetened, the way they do it there. It really underscores the flavors and nuances of different tea leaves.
    While I will never go back to sweetening my tea (or espresso, by the way!), I would just love trying one of those nabats (or tuts, for that matter)! 🙂

    • I would love to make some tut for you and your lovely significant other! There’s going to be a Persian Norooz festival in March in New York. You guys should come!!! Deets soon. There will be tut! ha ha


  2. Azita, you so passionate about how to present your beautiful Persian culture, I admire you for what you are doing. In all your posts you kind of preserve all the traditions which are so precious and valuable to keep and transform into the modern life of Iran and American-Iranian culture as well. Thank you for all your sharing. Dusted….

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    • You really like tea, so coming from you, means a lot! 🙂
      ps would love to hear / read more about your trip to Iran. Hopefully they are on your blog archives.

      • Thank you! 🙂
        So far I have only written one entry about my trip to Iran, but I plan to write more about it. It has had such a great impact on me! And if only I had good drawing skills I would love to draw a few anecdotes in the shape of comic strips. It would be great fun! (Who knows, maybe I’ll give it a try).

  4. Very nice Azita. I love tea and learning of all the rituals around the world that are associated with drinking it. Thanks for sharing this aspect of Persian culture! Wish I could sit and have a nice warm cup of Persian tea now!

  5. I like these series a lot! You truly get to the heart of our culture. Drinking a nice little glass of black chai while a clunk of sugar melts away in your mouth with each sip… for a long time I didn’t knew any other way :)))

  6. Azita, I truly appreciate your offer but the ugly truth is … I don’t drink tea! 😢
    However, I love everything about it: the stories, the china, the serving ceremonies and I would love to buy an antique samovar. Such an exquisite piece!
    Of course, I’ll pretend you didn’t damn elegance! 😜

  7. OK, the sugar cube in the mouth deal- there’s a skill to it for sure. I’ve tried, and I wind up with a couple of mouthfuls of very sweet tea and no sugar cube. Oh well, I’m a Southern hemisphere ferengi who grew up with milk no sugar tea so stories and pictures like this make me so happy- the same basic pleasure in all it’s wonderful forms. Amazing samovar too….

  8. I love tea-time…I don’t care what the culture is I just love that time of day where you can sit alone or with a few friends drink tea with some sweets and take a break from the day…my mom says growing up 3-4 pm everyone stopped what they were doing and fit was “Chay time”…those were the days 🙂
    The rock-candy I found at an Irani store once, my parents were ecstatic as these were their “lolli pops” growing up 😉

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