So far this week, we've talked about making and serving tea, but tea makes up a much greater part of Persian culture. Not only do you have it with breakfast, lunch and dinner, but you also have it several times throughout the day. Whether you go to a friend's house or have a business meeting, you will be offered tea. In fact, it's rude not to offer tea. Don't offer it, and the insulted Iranian will think, "Yek chai taarof nakard!", "S/He didn't even offer me tea!"
Iranians tend to judge people (and restaurants) based on their chai-making skills. I can just hear my mom saying she doesn't like a restaurant because "I don't like the way they serve Lipton tea!" (Note: Teabags are universally referred to as Lipton. Teabags- and minute rice, for that matter- are the Iranian's archenemy.) Tea is evaluated on its color, strength, taste, temperature, and presentation.
Quality tea is always looseleaf. A good host usually asks if guests like their tea por rang, deep color (strong tea) or kam rang, light color (weak tea). Personally, I'm a na kam rang, na por rang, (not strong or weak) kind of girl. If the color is too light either it wasn't brewed long enough or not enough tea was used, thereby affecting the taste. Big problem.
Iranians prefer just a hint of cardamon or cinnamon in their tea. No milk. No lemon. And if it's anything other than scalding when you first serve it, it's too cold. Iranians are absolutely horrified that iced tea is an option in the U.S. Firoozeh Dumas recounts this idea in her book Laughing Without an Accent. Her father's friends are in utter disbelief as he explains that people in the U.S. put ice in their tea.
Finally, tea must be served in a clear glass to be able to gauge the color and strength (the tea cups above are for coffee, but they make for nice presentation in a Persian restaurant in Spain). Elegant kamar baareek, slim wasted- glasses (like the picture above) are favored. Depending on the cup, it can be served on a saucer. Many people (mostly men or children) pour the tea in the saucer and drink it from there. Since there is more surface area, the tea cools quicker this way.
Luckily, Iranian women have some sharp chai-making abilities, and no doubt you will enjoy it with sugar cubes or shirini, pastries. Here's a nice phrase you can try after witnessing the perfection of the color, taste, and presentaion: Bah bah! Ajab chai! That's the Persian equivalent of Mmmm! What a tea!