Coffee Shops And Tea Houses In Iran – Tea is life in Iran. all day long. every day. It should be tâzeh dam (freshly prepared), lab riz (full to the ward), lab suz (hot [enough to burn your lips]) and lab duz (lip-smacking). At its most sophisticated, it’s served in a limpier Estecan-e Kamar barik (“thin-waisted” glass), and like Goldilocks soup, it’s not too strong, not too weak, but just right. Enter Tehran’s smallest tea house, where tea caters to all needs and the atmosphere makes your pants attractive. Oh, and get ready to say cheese.
I had heard about the legendary centuries-old tea house hidden somewhere along the winding labyrinth of the Grand Bazaar. Only 2 meters wide, it may be the smallest tea house in Tehran. I told another old friend and it piqued his interest. So together, we were on a mission, but we weren’t prepared for the Haft Khane Rostam we had to find.
Coffee Shops And Tea Houses In Iran
As we stand at the entrance to the courtyard, looking at the sea of chaotic people we have to pass by, the games in the bazaar begin.
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“A little tea-room? There’s one over the other door. But come and see our carpets!”
He didn’t finish his sentence, and I already took my friend’s hand to go to the “other side”. Sure, it’s still a 2m hole in the wall, but nothing to write home about. Chai served in a plastic cup? no thanks.
Google Haj Ali Darvish Teahouse, and articles will tell you that it is located near Abdullah Khan School and Mosque. “Ask anyone and they’ll point you in the right direction,” they write. I’m here to tell you, no they don’t. In my experience, they are so busy pulling in their local shops that they don’t care about your hunt for the perfect cup of tea. Maybe it was my own bad luck that day, but no one knew.
“Âghâ (sir)! We don’t want carpets. We’re looking for Haj Ali Darvish. We want tea! Do you know where he is?”
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“Yes, of course! Go straight, then right, then past the carpet bazaar, then left, then… wait, why do you want to go there? If you want tea, I’ll give you tea! He’s too expensive. … Come to my tent, you must still pass, I will give you tea, and you will look at our carpets.
We went “this way” about 20 meters as the last man commanded and finally we found him. There is a narrow hall off the main road, a flash and you’ll miss it sign. We saw him sitting in front of his stand quietly reading a newspaper. Black rimmed glasses, white beard and traditional coat made of terme.
After his father’s death, Haj Kasem took over the tea house. I knew this. I don’t know how the man who worked day in and day out in the bazaar doesn’t know this.
“Salaam, Khosh Amadid (Welcome),” he tells us and gets up to go behind his counter. “What will it be?”
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It has traditional Persian tea as well as several flavored teas such as na’nâ (mint) and dârchin (cinnamon). Turkish coffee and hot chocolate are also on the menu. We choose traditional tea.
While he took off the tee, I had the note on this well-used 2m space. It is undoubtedly the most charming tea house I have ever seen. There are photographs of her late father, copper and porcelain teapots, antique lanterns, abacus, green teapots and samovar (of course) among other things. There is an English sign on the side: “Sorry, I’m not perfect, but I’m definitely not fake!” I can’t figure out what he’s talking about.
He serves us tea in beautiful copper pots, kamar barik glasses of gand pahloo (with sugar cubes on the side). This is well made tea.
“There you are.” I give my friend a coin. “This is a souvenir from Iran. Haj Ali Darvish Teahouse souvenir,” he says in English. I feel he trained this line.
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Then an unexpected question: “Can I take your picture? I want to publish it on Instagram”, he asks us (in Persian).
We switch places with Haj Kazem and go behind the counter where the two of us can barely walk. He takes our photo, writes #Austria in Persian and immediately posts it on his very active Instagram account! In fact, he posts photos of all his guests (and follows them).
He asks my friend what his major is and talks a little about it. I don’t know many technical terms so I have to translate which is not easy. Haj Kazem looks at me a little confused.
“You see, I grew up in the United States,” I say. “Some of them are hard for me to explain in Persian.”
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“So that explains it!” You say “You came back to Iran. Good for you. This is your country.”
As we speak, his regular customers from nearby shops come in for tea. My friend orders Turkish coffee, many new customers come. Once again, Haj Kazem takes his photo and posts it on Instagram.
Finally we finish our drinks and say goodbye to our new friend. Back at the bazaar we pass a group of tourists who I’m sure are on their way to a small tea house.
I went back a few months later, this time with my best friend who came to visit. Retracing my steps from last time, I’m proud to say I found him without getting hit!
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“Actually, I don’t think there’s a visa requirement anymore. Or at least not anytime soon,” I say.
Then in true Haj Kazem fashion, he asks my friend to talk about his major, and he translates.
Pontia writes and blogs about everything Iran has to offer: culture, language and travel. Born and raised in the United States and living in Tehran for four years, her collection brings a unique perspective on Iran and a unique ability to explain cultural nuances to foreigners. A lifelong teacher and student, he provides cultural explanations and language advice for Iranophiles. They say good things come in small packages. This may be true in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, the world’s smallest tea house: Haj Ali Darwish.
Only 2 meters wide, Haj Ali Darwish has been in business since 1918. The small store has had only three owners in its nearly hundred-year history. The mission was inaugurated under Haj Mohammad Hasan Shamshiri. In 1962, he sold the company to Haj Ali Mabhutyan, who passed it on to his son, the current owner, Kazem Mabhutyan.
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Located in the Grand Bazaar, the tea room is a popular destination for tourists, who are encouraged to sign the shop’s guest book and receive a souvenir coin for their patronage.
With an area of 20 square kilometers, the collection of shops spans over 10 kilometers and is divided into sections specialized for certain materials (ie copper section, leather section). Often referred to as a “city within a city”, the Grand Bazaar has a wide range of architecture, with some buildings dating back 400 years and other structures built in recent decades.
Lonely Planet advises travelers to visit the capital’s shopping mecca in the morning when “business is lively but not yet hectic”. No matter what time locals or tourists visit the bazaar, they are likely to see workers carrying goods in carts or carrying bulky items across the lanes.
Century, tea has been an important part of Iranian culture, facilitating commerce and social interaction. Tea has been produced since the beginning of the 20th century in Iran’s promising Gilan, near the Caspian Sea.
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Hajj Ali Darwish used tea in many shops in the Grand Bazaar before the Iranian Revolution, but since then many shops make their own tea.
However, Haj Ali Darvish has enjoyed a steady stream of customers, many of whom are tourists looking to experience the ultimate taste of the world’s smallest tea house.
Indeed, Iran’s tourism industry has increased in recent years. Europeans are increasingly booking trips to the country, and the lifting of sanctions against Iran by the United States in 2016 has led to more Americans traveling to the state. In 2014, 5 million foreigners visited Iran and the country expects its tourism to increase fivefold by 2025.
If you’re in the mood to explore Iran’s rich history and a great cup of tea in a small space, set your compass for Tehran with the State Department’s travel advisory in mind.
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Laura Brienza is the author of Historic Restaurants, Inns and Taverns of New York (Globe Pequot Press 2016) and Discovering Vintage Washington, DC (Globe Pequot Press 2015).
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