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Posts Tagged ‘Tea’

The Pazyryk Carpet

The Pazyryk Carpet

I think that I can say without prejudice that the Persians make the best hand-made carpets in the world. The designs are exquisite and the workmanship is awesome. Carpet weaving in Iran is an ancient craft with the earliest woven carpet, the Pazyryk Carpet dating from at least 500BC and thought to be Persian (or Armenian), on show in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia.

 

Persian carpets are usually made from wool, sometimes camel hair but often from silk which makes finely knotted carpets that look like painted pictures rather than rugs they are so delicate and tightly put together. Traditional Persian carpets are knotted and not woven and thousands of knots make up each row. Each knot is made by hand which is extremely time-consuming and harsh on the fingers. Carpets or rugs can have as many as 900 knots per square inch although between 500-700 is more usual.

There are many traditional designs, and each region of Iran has their own special design and colours that they use. Kashan is considered to be the Persian carpet capital and traditionally produces carpets of brick red, ivory and beige with dark blue medallions and borders. The carpet makers of Esfahan however tend to use traditional designs like the Tree of Life and contemporary items feature more pastel colours.

And so it was that Mr Aghaee, our guide at Na’in Old Mosque who we met earlier in the series, has a wife who is a renowned local carpet maker. As is typical with Iranians when I expressed an interest he rang his wife and we were invited to their house to meet her and watch her at work. I love planning my holiday trips and Iran has never disappointed me so far, but I also love the unplanned diversions usually at the behest of the wonderful Iranian hospitality.

Mrs Aghaee was every bit as welcoming as her husband but with less English and so all my questions were routed via Feri. Mrs Aghaee started by sitting at her loom and giving us a demonstration of her Persian knotting skills using a mixed silk and wool thread. The carpet she is working on is a commission from Tehran and she is expecting it to take 26 months to complete. We worked out that for the price of this carpet she “earns” between £1 and £1.50 per hour. The equivalent in the UK based on the National Minimum Wage would be £25,000.

Whilst knotting away very quickly, Mrs Aghee told us that she has been making carpets since she was 6 years old, and as the only daughter of 7 children, it was up to her to carry on the family tradition. Watching her at her craft, Mrs Aghaee used a very heavy device to “fix” the knots and she admitted that it can make her wrist very painful after a while but it is necessary to ensure the tightness of the knots. She also said that sitting at her loom for hours on end can give her back ache so whilst the carpets and rugs are beautiful and very desirable, they clearly come at a personal cost to health.

Mrs Aghaee insisted on us staying for some tea (chai) whilst she showed us some of her carpets and rugs. She also told us about her seven children, six of whom are highly educated with her youngest son being an incredibly talented artist. Sadly, none of the children are in the least interested in carrying on the family carpet making tradition and so the specialist skills learned and honed over the years and the knowledge passed on from generation to generation will be lost unless Mrs Aghaee finds someone interested in taking this on.

 

Na'in old mosque designed and woven by Mrs Ahagee

Na’in old mosque designed and woven by Mrs Aghaee

I would have loved to have brought a rug made by Mrs Aghaee home with us, but with the smallest (and the most beautiful in my opinion) was £2,000 and therefore beyond our means this holiday. Maybe next time!

 

 

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Iranian teahouses (Chai-Khaneh) are traditionally men-only hideaways where they can sit and drink tea (chai) all day and well into the night. My favourite teahouse (subject to my comments below)  is the Azadegan Teahouse near the Naqsh-e-Jahan Square where women are allowed albeit in the family area only. I am not allowed to venture beyond the dividing curtain and smoke Hubble-Bubble.

Not being a Hubble-Bubble smoker, I like this place because of its unique ambiance and fun decoration which is over-the-top to say the least. The place is crammed full of lamps and pictures, pots, mirrors and ephemera of all kinds. A bohemian cave if ever there was one.

There is a prominent sign saying “No Photographs” and normally I’m happy to respect their wishes and oblige. But as everyone else was taking pictures and I wasn’t offending anyone I took a few for posterity.

 Back to my comments above. Previous visits to this teahouse have been charming but this time I have to say that the toilets were rank, and the waiter fair threw the tray of tea and naabot at us. He may just have been having a “bad hair day” but it spoilt my visit. He also charged us for something we didn’t ask for and didn’t eat (Baklava) which represented £1.20 out of a total bill of £1.60!  But at those prices it seemed incredibly churlish to complain so Feri paid up in full and we left vowing never to return! (of course we will.) It is very out of character for the Iranians to be so surly and unhelpful. From my experience, they are not rude or impatient at all but are more than happy to pander to your custom.

For me, I’m quite happy to make my way past chickens in wire pens, and huge vinegar vats to get to this teahouse hidden in the corner (and you certainly wouldn’t find it if you didn’t already know it was there) and I’m sure that like Arnie, ” we will be back”.

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On a previous visit to Iran we were lucky enough to be invited round to tea by our next-door-neighbours. This was no ordinary tea-time though as the point of the invitation was to show me the extremely old samovar and charcoal burner that is the traditional Iranian way to prepare tea. I forget now just how old the samovar is but I think it is at least 70 years old.

We sat on a takht, covered in a Persian carpet and drank tea as it should be drunk! Calmly with friends. 🙂

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Iranians have always loved their tea and I love their tea too. Mostly it is brewed from a mild, non-aromatic long-leaved loose tea with T-bags only being used for convenience on picnics and when travelling .

Iranian or Persian tea is brewed for breakfast, at mid-morning, before and after lunch and dinner and at all hours in between! In fact we always have a pot of tea keeping warm over the kettle (in Iran) or over a tea-light warmer when in the UK (see photo above). Persian tea is drunk black and traditionally served in “Estekaans” which are small, see-through glass cups.

Being a mild tea means that you can experiment with different flavours to suit your taste and common Persian additions include rose petals or rosewater and cardamom. I was given a packet of pods to bring back to the UK on my recent visit to Iran and I love the tangy taste not just in tea but in the Iranian sweet Sohan, made in Esfahan.

Sohan is a traditional Iranian toffee flavoured with saffron and cardamom and covered in slivers of almond and pistachio nuts. I would have shown you a photo of the box of Sohan I brought back with me last week but I’ve eaten it 😦  

Different types of sugar cubes are also served with the tea, and my two favourites are Nabat and Pulaki. I prefer plain Pulaki, thin slivers of crystallised sugar, to the variety made with sesame seeds but it is a personal choice and you will usually be offered a variety of sweeteners to choose from. You can add the sugar to your tea, as in Chai Nabat, or sip your tea through the sugar in your mouth. Alternatively, you can drink your tea without but that’s not nearly as much fun! 

  

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