How to Brew the Perfect Persian Cup of Tea (Chai)


When you walk into an Iranian home after the customary greetings, the first thing you would be offered as soon as you sit down is a well brewed hot cup of tea.  Tea is the hot beverage of choice in Iran where it is served for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in between with at least one or more refills. There's more to drinking tea than meets the eye. It's about being together with family and friends, relaxing and talking. However, when alone nothing is better than drinking tea and reading a good book.

The history of tea dates back to the late 15th century. Before that coffee was the main hot drink in our country. Coffee houses (ghahveh khaneh) were built on the side of roads, as resting places for travelers. They would be served some food and a chance to take a break for awhile before heading out to their destinations. The name "coffee house" (ghahveh khaneh) still remains to date even though they mainly serve tea.


To brew a perfect Persian style tea, you need a good quality long, loose leaf black tea.Using a porcelain or china teapot is recommended. The teapot should have several tiny holes inside where the spout is located which works as a strainer. Also, you need a kettle not only to boil the water but to serve as a stand for the teapot while the tea is brewing on the stove. Using an electrical samavar, if you happen to have one, is the best option. Samavar was brought to Iran in the 18th century from Russia.
Samavar
Method:
  1. Fill the kettle with fresh cold water and bring to a boil. As soon as the water comes to a boil, warm up your teapot by rinsing it with some hot water from the kettle.
  2. Place 2 tablespoons of tea into the teapot. Don't use any tea holders inside the teapot. If you buy your tea in bulks from outdoor vendors, you may want to also give your tea a gentle rinse with water to get rid of the possible dirt and dust.
  3. Pour water into the pot over the loose tea leaves. Fill it nearly to the rim and put the lid back on.
  4. Place the pot on the kettle in a secure position. It should fit well on the kettle. Allow it to brew for at least 10-15 minutes on medium to low heat.
  5. Rinse inside the cups with hot water.
  6. Gently pour tea into glass cups to prevent it from making a lot of bubbles. Depending on how strong or light you might like your tea, adjust it using the boiled water in the kettle. It is a good practice when serving a large group of guests to have a tray with both light and dark tea.
 To add some extra flavor you may add the following ingredients to the teapot:

1 tablespoon of rosewater (golab)
2-3 green cardamom (hel) pod opened
2 small sticks of cinnamon (darchin)
You may serve chai with sugar cubes, dates, raisins or other sweets. However, for those serious tea drinkers, adding sugar, milk or anything else would take away from the taste.
There's also the etiquette of serving the eldest and the ladies first as you are making rounds. Make sure there are no spillage on the tray either. That's the lesson I learned early on in my life when I was only ten years old. One day, my mother handed me a tray with several full cups and told me to take it outside and offer them to the guests sitting in the garden. Before I could get any further some tea spilled due to my shaky hands. She wiped the tray, filled up the cups and told me: "Look, you should be able to dance ballet and carry a  tea tray at the same time without spilling a drop." The memory of that day is still fresh in my mind!
I like my tea dark and a little bit on the bitter side with no sugar, milk or lemon. How do you like your tea?

Samavar photo credit, Here.
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Enjoy!

32 comments:

  1. Splendid and educational post, with beautiful pictures, too! As a chai fan, this is such a treat! I have an award for your lovely blog--please come on by to pick it up :)
    http://bentobird.blogspot.com/2010/01/awards.html

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  2. Oh, my grandparents used to have a Russian samovar similar to this gorgeous one and the cups too! So pretty!

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  3. You know I discovered Persian tea in California through Persian friends and I thought it was wonderful! I loved the tea, the samovar, the whole experience! I learned since then to be demanding when it comes to tea! Because the best tea is Persian tea, made the right way, which is not always the case! Thanks for a great post!

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  4. bentobird, Thank you, that's very kind of you. This is my first award and it means a lot to me.
    5 Star Foodie, my grandparents had a samovar too. we used to have one but rarely used it.
    Taste of Beirut, thanks, I love the tea and the whole experience too!

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  5. Oh, how I adore tea! Though I do admit to sweetening mine ;-) Thanks for your lovely post. Love the tip about warming the teapot with some splashes of hot water. I'd never heard that before, and plan to try it soon.

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  6. Nice posting,Azita. i never know about adding some flavor for the persian tea style.. sounds great. I will make note about this. :) Thank you

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  7. A very informative post on tea. It is also so popular here in Turkey. It is a tradition to serve tea at breakfast and after lunch and dinner. And the aroma of tea brewed in semaver is irresistible.

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  8. azita, i like the way you gave us a historical background about tea as well as shared stories from your culture. these sort of posts which reveal things about one's personality are my fave! i like my tea w milk and a cardamom, but also, the way you do- which is strange, right? pakistanis only drink tea w milk. but i started drinking tea like you do bec of an Arab friend who used to drink tea this way- and i loved it. i love this post v much, Azita jan.

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  9. Zerrin, thank you for stopping by and commenting, it's so nice to see you here.

    Shayma jan,thank you so much my dear.

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  10. Can't tell you how much I love your website. I was born in Iran and lived there until I was about 8yrs. My mother is American so we mostly lived here in the states. I remember my grandmothers cooking (my mother never could get the hang of cooking Iranian dishes, LOL) and still crave it to this day. I've tried to find recipes online but am never sure what I am making since I can't remember the names to the dishes, so your site has been such a blessing, I love that you have pictures with the recipes, now I can see and remember what my favorite dishes use to be. Tonight I'm fixing "Shevid Boghali Polow" YUM my favorite. I do remember one thing and that was how to make the steamed rice. LOL Wish me luck.

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  11. Tina C., Thank you so very much and I'm very glad you found this blog! It's wonderful that you know how to make rice the Iranian way, the rest is easy! Best of luck and enjoy the shevid baghali polow!

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  12. My husband had Iranian tea with friends from Iran, and loved it. Finally, after 7 years (in South Africa) we managed to get our hands on Iranian tea, however my first attempt was not great. The tea turned out extremely bitter, however my husband says that he does recognize the flavor.
    I will definitely try your instructions, and hope I get it to taste better this time around.

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  13. I love you blog and all your wonderful recipes. I have the good fortune of having Iranian friends in Chicago. My fondest memories is of spending many evening with them and always walking in the door and being handed a cup of tea and their wonderful hospitality. The mother made the most delightful food and as an American from the Midwest it was a change for the food my family ate.

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  14. Azita, where did you get your beautiful tea cups? I am looking for a set for a gift for my father! I also love that gold platter you used as well. Thank you!

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  15. Laila jan, this tea set and the gold platter were gifted to me by a family member from Iran.

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  16. What a great article and such a nice insight into your long tradition of tea drinking. I was wondering. If you serve tea with cardamom how would you name it in persian? is it Chai b hel? I would like to impress my persian frineds.

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    Replies
    1. Jama, yes, the name would be chai ba hel in Persian. Thank you!

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  17. Ya Allah this looks good. Persian tea is my favorite right after Turkish :) But the tea we have here in Saudi is just not the same I used to be able to get it in the states :( Where can I get the right blend online?

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    1. Noor, you can try amazon.com for premium loose leaf black tea.

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    2. noor, Saudi tea, like ربیعه ، is brands of 'ceylon' tea, we mix this type of tea with another one called ' earl grey' or in Farsi 'شای معطر' which gives it the fragrance...I enjoy Saudi rabea tea it goes well with cardoman or 'حل'... there are a few other teas people will mix but the earl grey has the main fragrance of Persian tea which is 'bergamot' but always mix it with rabea or similar...my dear friends from hafoof I miss them

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  18. Hi,

    Wowwwww only came across your website yesterday & i'm soooooooooo happy that I did... your work is great :-)) pictures, history and great easy to follow recipes!

    One question for the tea... we have Ahmad tea, what's the best brand of tea to follow exactly how you would make it?

    Thank you,
    Layla

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    Replies
    1. Layla jan, I like Ahmad tea too. Thank you very much for your kind words!

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  19. Hello,

    What do you usually eat with tea? Do you have an Iranian counterpart of scones?

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    1. Traditionally tea is served with sugar cubes and other sweets.

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  20. Where can I buy SHabazz tea online? My friends from Iran (in Los Angeles) turned me onto it and since I returned to the east coast US, I can't find it anywhere!!!!

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    Replies
    1. Viki, I had never heard of this brand before.

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  21. Hi

    You say the tea should be brewed in a china/porcelain tea pot. What do you think about brewing tea in a transparent tea pot? (the type made out of glass/plastic). Will the tea lose its taste?

    I also add a tiny amount of ground saffron (very small),

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    Replies
    1. Hi, porcelain/china teapots are classic and have been the most commonly used teapots in Iran. I don't think using the glass teapot would change the flavor of the tea and therefore I don't see a problem with using it.

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    2. What is the white thing in the first picture?

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  22. Very good...i always stir my tea with spoon before serving.?. and always cover the tea pot with a clean cloth.....my other favorite spice to add are fresh mint leaf or fresh jasmine from my flower pot when it's the season....
    love black tea...
    cheers...
    shirin

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  23. I find this very interesting myself. I am a recent devotee to various tea. Chai and more recently Market Spice. A friend recommended Iranian black tea. This caught my attention immediately as I've always had a underlying interest in just anything Persian. Decades ago I met Iranian political refugees while serving in another middle eastern country. I was very impressed by them; polite, very well spoken, neatly dressed, family oriented persons. It would give me some joy to have a tiny little piece of thier cultural best.

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