There used to be a thriving coffee scene in Tehran. If you type the words ‘coffee in Tehran’ or ‘Tehran coffee shops’ into a search engine you’ll find quite a few blogs and reviews of what sound like really nice places, frequented by a largely arty, slightly bohemian crowd.
But look more closely at when most of these entries were written and you’ll find that some date back 10 years or so, and there isn’t much online that gets nearer to present day than about 2011. The reason for that, it seems, is that a whole swathe of coffee shops was closed down a couple of years ago as the authorities saw them as places where western culture dominated and as potential sources of opposition.
Hopefully this blog entry might start to freshen things up a bit, not that we’re in the business of trying to drum up opposition to anything in Iran, but more because it is possible to find a decent coffee even now and it’s nice to let others know where to go if they just happen to be in Tehran…
We found two coffee shops within ten minutes’ walk of our hotel (near the former US Embassy) and would highly recommend either of them.
Café Van is on Karim Khan Zand Street, and we found it by chance when we were trying (in vain) to find one of the coffee shops mentioned in those blogs written a few years back.
It’s tucked away from sight through a doorway that also leads up to a restaurant upstairs. There’s a book shop next door and a pedestrian bridge over the main road just a bit further up the street (useful markers in a city where you don’t often find buildings with street numbers).
There’s a nice, relaxed feel to the place, with couples quietly chatting or friends gathering for a laid back cuppa to while away the afternoon or evening. And that, by the way, is the first big difference between any Iranian coffee culture and anything we are used to in the West.
Nobody, apparently, grabs a latte on their way into work; there’s no quick espresso at the bar before you head to the office. No, the coffee shops we found only opened at 11am (and ran through to about 11pm), which meant in our busy schedule it wasn’t possible to have a morning coffee to kick-start the day.
Café Van serves up an Italian roast. It’s maybe a bit frothy on top for the type of cappuccino I like, but after several days without a decent brew, this place was really most welcome.
The café is run by a guy whose Dad is Italian and his Mum Iranian, so we stopped in for a bowl of pasta, having initially gone for an afternoon tea time coffee and cake (the cakes were delicious by the way).
Just in case you were wondering, there’s a bit of a VW Campervan theme to this place, not because the parents were ageing hippies who used to drive one, but just because it’s a cool vehicle, we were told. Fair enough.
Nice place, nice vibe, decent coffee.
Café Grooshe was even more convenient for us, being right across the road from the Hotel Mashhad on Mofatteh Street, where we were staying.
It’s a smaller place, with a great atmosphere, and nice film-themed décor.
It’s run by really friendly guys, some of whom speak excellent English. But we didn’t get a chance to sample their coffee.
Yes, the day before we hit town, their espresso machine had ceased to work, so we had to make do with tea (very good quality loose leaf, by the way – and served in beautiful mugs).
Their new Simonelli machine arrived on our second day in town and when we popped back in for a late brew at about 7pm, they were just installing it. They promised that cappuccino would be available within half an hour, but half an hour round these parts can quickly become three hours, and we decided to stick to tea, not wanting to risk another sleepless night on the caffeine.
So, I can’t vouch for their coffee at Café Grooshe, but if their tea is anything to go by – not to mention their choice of espresso machine, they’d do potentially the best coffee in Tehran (even if it is another Italian bean and roast…).
We were on a tight tourist schedule in Tehran, visiting rather more museums than I would usually choose. But we did manage a quick look at the Arab section of Tehran’s central market (enormous place, by the way), where coffee is one of the specialities.
This may have been instant coffee, but it was a pretty good instant and their cake was really the best we’d had for a while. To be honest, if I’d had a choice, I’d have happily spent three museum hours just wandering up and down these coffee aisles talking to the coffee merchants and trying different roasts.
But when you’re a Brit in Iran, you have to follow the guide, so that wasn’t an option.
So we didn’t manage more than a quick scratch to the surface of coffee in Tehran, but the scene is still there and it gave us a chance not only to say hello to the baristas there, but also to post a new blog about coffee shops in Tehran, making the google search hopefully a little more up-to-date than we’d found before we got there.
Enjoy your coffee, people of Tehran…and anybody visiting!