Our second day in Iran was devoted to tea, and that meant sticking near to the Caspian Sea in the west of the country.
Our guide Hamid reckoned that the town of Fuman would be the best area to look for tea plantations, and he was right, though the factory he knew had changed hands since his last visit and the workers there were a bit shy of unexpected foreign guests.
So we ended up at a neighbouring town, where we visited Amard Tea Company.
Here we hit the tea jackpot. Owner Reze Astanehe came over to meet us and with his excellent (American educated?) English, told us the story not only of his family firm but also a bit of the background to tea in Iran.
A photo of the gent who brought tea to Iran stands proudly on the wall of Amard Tea’s shop outside their factory. I forget his name, but he came from India with the tea plants some 115 years ago and had various failed attempts to grow the crops in different parts of Iran before having success in the Caspian region.
Mr Astanehe’s family started the business some 55 years ago, his granddad moving to this factory about 50 years ago, and some of the machinery in use in the factory today must still date from around that time.
To our delight a fair few of the machines – a dryer and a roller – were manufactured in the UK, in Gainsborough by a company called Marshalls. That company has long gone now (though this discovery gives me an idea of finding out more when we finish this trip), so any break downs or parts needed to be fixed by the techies on site using imagination and their own resources rather than British replacements.
The Marshalls machines work alongside Iranian and Chinese models, but Mr Astanehe clearly has an affection for the solid reliability of the British equipment. I wonder how many other tea factories in the world are still using Marshalls tea machines.
We were shown the whole process from the picking (up to 5 harvests a year on these plantations compared to the normal four in Iran – and only three in Turkey), through the sorting, drying, rolling and oxidising to storage. It was a fantastic introduction to the tea-making process from a man who clearly loves his tea!
As do we, as I can confirm having had a cuppa with him and his colleagues after the tour. Oh, and we got to meet his longest standing employee, who had been a gardener virtually from the start of the family firm.
Of course we couldn’t leave without a box of tea, and it is supplying us every morning now on our journey with a real quality cuppa, not to mention great memories of the visit to this part of Iran.
We also drove past another tea plantation, in the middle of which we saw that a hotel was now being built. What a great idea if Iran starts to market itself as a tea tourism destination.
In complete contrast to what would be possible with health and safety rules in the UK or elsewhere in Europe or Australia, we were invited to go up to the 6th floor, where they are still building, and get the best views of the tea plantations.
Although they hadn’t finished the building yet, the restaurant on the first floor was open for lunch if we fancied it…I’m sure this will be a lovely place to stay one day (so keep Hotel Mohin for future reference) but we might leave it for a year or so until the final rooms are actually in place…
One tour operator we had consulted for our visit to Iran (all Brits have to be guided at the moment) had said simply ‘you can get tea everywhere in Iran’, when I expressed an interest in learning about Iranian tea. And in a sense they were right (though we didn’t choose them as guides in the end).
Tea is almost as ubiquitous as in Turkey.
We didn’t manage to find any particular tea rooms for reviewing for the Fancy a Cuppa blog of this journey, but one of the coffee shops we found in Tehran did rather good loose leaf tea, so that’ll get a mention when we write up the reviews later on.
So Iranian tea is well worth a taste. I’m not sure the country is ready for tea tourism yet, but some of the tour operators could seriously consider offering a tea element to any guided tours, as well as the ancient history and archaeology sites.
And we thoroughly enjoyed our day connecting with the tea culture there, especially given the link we found to Gainsborough. Anyone know someone who worked for Marshalls all those years ago?