Tea is a plant that grows in the wild. Its origin is said to be eastern Asia. Drinking tea goes back to 2500 B.C., apparently. It has traveled from China to Japan and India before making its way to other parts of the world.
Historical evidence say tea entered Iran in the first centuries after the advent of Islam. It is said that the drink was used to cure certain diseases. Iranian physician and scientist Abu Reyhan Birouni has referred to tea in his book called Medical Pharmacology written in the 12th century. He has confirmed that the plant came from China.
An unknown English man and an Isfahani businessman called Haj Mohammad Hossein Esfahani were the pioneers who tried to grow tea in Iran. Their efforts, however, did not produce tangible results. Finally it was Haj Mohammad Mirza, known as Kashef-o-Saltaneh, who managed to do so. He was Iran’s consul in India under Mozaffar Addin Shah Qajar. Historical references tell us that in November 2, 1900, Kashef-o-Saltaneh brought the first tea sapling from India to Iran and began planting it in the northern Iranian city of Lahijan.
Planting and producing tea was an imported skill in the beginning but it was Iranized after a century and entered the traditional culture of agriculture in Iran.
Based on historical sources, readying and drinking tea with special traditions, go back to several centuries before the plant was first grown in Iran. Back then, only a few rich families could afford the tea that was imported from countries like China and India. A German man called Olarius who had traveled to Iran in the 17th century says in his itinerary that people of Iran used to roll black dried leaves of tea in clean water and brew it before adding sugar to it and drinking it.
It’s not clear when drinking tea became common among the rich and the noble. But it was likely coincident with the arrival of samovar in Iran. Chief Minister to Naseradin Shah Qajar, Amir Kabir, played a major role in turning tea into a common beverage. He received two tea sets as gifts from the French government and a Russian businessman in 1850. Then he gave an Isfahani craftsman the franchise to build samovars in Iran with government budget. The pieces needed to drink tea came into Iran too. The tea brew turned into a desirable thing because it was grown in Iran and therefore cheap. That’s how more people came to drink tea. In the beginning only the royal family, the rich and families of officials could drink tea. But imports increased and the plant was grown in Iran. That made tea a common drink and its consumption an almost daily practice among the public.
Drinking tea is desirable in all seasons; but it’s of especial joy in cold seasons in Iran. It’s part of Iranian people’s diet and they prefer to drink it when gathered together. Drinking tea with others has a special joy, but it’s a habit and a social etiquette in the Iranian culture too.
People usually drink tea with a sweet thing, mostly sugar cubes. But sugar, candy, traditional Iranian candies, natural sugars such as date, raisin, dried berries or different kinds of modern products such as biscuits and chocolates also accompany a cup of tea these days.