Tea was discovered about 5000 years ago in China. In the early 17th century, tea was introduced to England and its Chinese name, tay, changed to the English name tea. In England, tea was brewed in china teapots. The English believed that a drop of milk in the teapot would prevent it from breaking and thus the tradition of drinking tea with milk started. Around 1868, an Iranian merchant (later nicknamed Chaikar or ‘tea planter’) brought tea from India to Iran. Tea became very popular in Iran and nowadays every Persian family has at least one samovar.
In most Iranian households, a samovar, a large metal container with three compartments- the top for keeping the teapot warm, the middle for water and the bottom for hot coals (although today most samovars are electric)- sits on a large tray with a bowl called the jaam under the spout to catch drips. The teapot, a jar of tea, and a covered bowl of sugar are set beside the samovar, which is kept steaming all day long. As soon as visitors step over the threshold, a small glass of tea with three lumps of sugar and a tea spoon is offered to them.
In Iran, the color and appearance of tea is important as its aroma and taste; therefore, tea is usually served in small glasses on saucers, or in engareh, silver or gold holders that hold the glass.
However, it is interesting that Iranian tea-houses are still called qahveh khaneh, which literally means ‘coffee house’. This name is left over from the time when coffee was served. Today the main drink served in these coffee houses is tea! The qahveh khaneh are centers of social interaction.
In Iran, tea is never drunk with milk. We take tea with sugar or with half a lime, honey, dates, raisins or dried sweet white mulberries. A spoonful of sour cherry jam dropped into a glass of tea gives it an excellent taste. Tea should always be served hot.
To make Persian Tea:
- Bring water to a boil in a tea kettle. Warm a teapot by swirling some boiling water in it; pour out the water. Place 2 tbsp Persian tea leaves in the pot, using perfumed Ghazal or any Persian blend black tea from an Iranian store, and 1 tsp orange blossom water for a delightful flavor, aroma and color.
- Fill the teapot half full with boiling water. Replace the lid, cover the pot with a cozy and let steep for 5 to 10 minutes – do not steep for more than 10 minutes as the quality will deteriorate. If you are using a samovar, steep the tea on top.
- Pour a glassful of tea and return it to the pot to make sure the tea is evenly mixed.
- Fill each glass or cup halfway with tea. Add boiling water from the kettle to dilute the tea to the desired color and taste: Some prefer their tea weak, some strong. Keep the pot covered with the cozy while you drink the first glasses. Persian-style tea should always be served good and hot. Refill the glass frequently until you’ve had enough of company and it’s time for your guests to leave. Nush-e-Jan!