Tea Time, a very British tradition, so much so that when I met up with my Iranian brother in law in Turkey, thirty odd years ago, in an attempt to help him obtain a visa in order to come to the UK, I explained every delay that came about at the British Embassy as, ‘Oh it must be teatime”. “What do you mean”, he asked on several of these occasions, ‘You will see when you get to England’, was my reply’, and he saw.
There was the time when we waited for a bus at Brent Cross, the bus was delayed leaving. I saw the bus driver and conductor drinking tea, they are still on their tea break I explained to my brother in law. There were many other places in subsequent years where I showed him how, the hurly burly of life stopped, for a while, for teatime.
More recently, TeaTime became my nick name when I was working in Greece*. In the heat of summer, most of my Greek work colleagues were sipping ice coffee and the like but I would order tea, ‘ice tea,’ they asked, ‘Oh no, hot tea,’ I replied.
From time immemorial
In Iran you are never far physically or metaphorically from your next cup of tea.....
...... or so I thought until I was shown the practice of taroof, refusing things out of politeness. One evening I made the mistake of refusing the second cup of tea, offered by the hostess, after all its only polite and then in the same spirit the hostess would offer again and I was at liberty to accept without offending anyone but the second offer was intercepted by my Mother in Law when she said, ‘oh she isn’t refusing out of politeness, she doesn't taroof, she means she doesn’t want another cup of tea.’ The tray passed me by, quickly, to the next guest. That was my chance gone because I wasn’t bold enough, then, to say I am quite able to speak for myself, actually I do want another cup of tea. In Iran tea is very much the drink of the nation and is drunk from morning till night, regardless of class or ethnic background. The whole tea serving process is quite a sophisticated affair, no teabags dunked in large mugs of boiling water with milk and/or sugar added to taste but a much slower process where loose tea is used, brewed in a teapot to perfection, a golden honey colour, atop a samovar or kettle and then served in delicate glasses placed on porcelain saucers.
Most Iranians drink their tea sweet. Sugar is added to the first glass of the day and thereafter is usually drunk without sugar but through hard sugar lumps popped straight into the mouth. The patterned china saucer accompanying the glass is sometimes used to cool the tea, the tea is then drunk straight from the saucer, but only with close friends and family, not in polite company.
Tea is drunk throughout the day, rain or shine, summer or winter, with friends and family, served to guests on arrival and throughout the evening, especially after the dinner, at weddings, at funerals, at birthday parties, mourning events such as Muharram ( see other article) at business meetings and to seal a business deal and after a day of fasting, during the month of Ramadan, where the tea is accompanied by dates or nabot, 1) “the uniquely Persian sticks of crystallised sugar tinged yellow with saffron”. Tea really is the best drink of the day.
(1) Frank Gardener, Ultimatum P10, Penguin
*Later changed to TeaCup - reason mysteriously forgotten (note of the editor)
4 Nobember 2019