News ID: 314292
Published: 0554 GMT June 28, 2021
Qahveh khaneh, culture of coffeehouse in Iran dates back to Safavid Era

Qahveh Khanehs were gradually transformed to teahouses

Qahveh Khanehs were gradually transformed to teahouses
tasteiran.net

The culture of socializing in coffeehouses in Iran has been around since the 16th century. The notion of getting together in public and conversing over coffee and tea can be traced back to a few centuries in Iran.

These places were called qahveh khaneh, meaning coffeehouse in Farsi. Pilgrims returning from Mecca introduced the idea of coffeehouses to Iran. It is remarkable to know that Iran has been among the first few countries to have coffeehouses and people gathered there from diverse social groups, tasteiran.net wrote.
The first qahveh khaneh in Iran opened in the city of Qazvin, during the Safavid Era. Later, as Abbas the Great, the 5th Safavid king of Iran came into power, qahveh khaneh became more popular and grew significantly in number in big cities like Tehran, Tabriz, Isfahan, and Rasht. During this time, qahveh khanehs were established as a place where poets, writers and artists and others from the upper social class gathered. 
Furthermore, royal guests were received in these qahveh khanehs. It is known that Shah Abbas the Great visited different qahveh khanehs, unannounced and in disguise. It shows the significance of these places to the kings of Safavid. 
 
Flourishing times of 
the coffeehouse
 
During the Safavid Era, qahveh khanehs were the center of social gathering and spending leisure time with friends exclusively for men. These people were mostly of the royal family and elites.
Upon the fall of the Safavid Dynasty, the qahveh khaneh lost its status. Later on, with the Qajar coming to power, and the popularity of coffeehouses in Europe, qahveh khanehs had a powerful comeback, but in another form. As sitting in the qahveh khanehs for a cup of coffee and engaging in conversation, playing innocent games such as chess and hopscotch checkers were very popular.
 
The incubation of dramatic 
and folk arts
 
Concurrently, qahveh khanehs were home to folk arts such as dramatic performances as naqqāli (Iranian dramatic story-telling), Shahnameh khani (reading Shahnameh, a long epic poem written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi), and paintings that were connected and provided the context for flourishing each other. 
These folk arts included a painting style called qahveh khaneh painting with significance. Some of the best qahveh khanehs paintings are exhibited in the Reza Abbasi Museum in Tehran. Through these entertaining performances, ordinary people would have a better grasp of the rich and splendid Persian art and literature. Even itinerant artists who had no place to performance had been performing in qahveh khanehs. Most of the owners of coffeehouses have been amateur poet or musicologist. 
Café, a new form of qahveh khaneh was born in the mid-time of Qajar Era. Cafes turned out to be the hangout space for writers, poets, and elites conversing over a variety of topics, from politics to literature.
Conversely, qahveh khaneh became more of a trade zone for businessmen. Over time, each qahveh khaneh was known to be the hangout for a specific guild, and people knew where to find their counterparts. Other social groups such as sportsmen of the zoorkhaneh (the traditional gym in which traditional sports and rituals are performed) were starting the day with exercise in the Iranian ancient gym and refreshing by drinking tea and watching naqqali performance in qahveh khaneh.
 
Drinking tea instead of coffee
 
The first time a foreign traveler mentioned drinking tea in Iran was in the German Adam Olearius’ travelogue. He traveled to Iran during the 17th century and later discussed qahveh khanehs and teahouses in Iran. The tea leaves were imported from China; however, later on the seeds were brought to Iran by an Iranian merchant called Kashef al-Saltaneh, from India. People gradually changed their drinking habits from coffee to tea. However, the name of qahveh khaneh remained unchanged even though coffee was no longer served there.
 
Architecture of qahveh khaneh
 
The architecture of qahveh khaneh used to be very similar to sarbineh (the cold room of Iranian public bathhouses). It was mostly a house with elevated halls and a spacious main area, mostly having a water basin in the middle. Around the room, were platforms in different sizes, based on the size of the location for people to sit and enjoy their time. 
 
Qahveh khaneh vs. café
 
During the 18th century, with the social and structural changes and introduction of mass media such as TV and radio the game changed for qahveh khanehs. In time, there were many reasons to choose cafés over qahveh khanehs. For instance, due to many travels to Europe by the Qajar kings, they came to such admiration with theatre and cinema that they decided to introduce them to the residents of the Iranian capital Tehran. More cafes and restaurants opened in Tehran, representing Western culture. Also, unlike qahveh khanehs, women were allowed in cafés. 
However, some of these qahveh khanehs have become tourist attractions. For instance, if you ever visit the Grand Bazaar of Tehran, you should visit Haj Ali Darvish Teahouse. It is hardly two square meters and is considered one of the smallest teahouses in Tehran. The owner has inherited the place from his father, who had inherited it from his father. This place dates back to more than 100 years ago and serves tea with several traditional flavors and Turkish and espresso coffee with a unique taste.
Today, cafes in Tehran are no longer similar to what they were a generation or even a decade ago. From the Qajar onwards, cafés and qahveh khanehs parted ways. Cafés became a place frequented by many educated people. Whereas, qahveh khanehs became home to the working class, drinking tea and smoking hookah. But in some regions, the life of coffee or teahouses is so vibrant that you can find the original spirit of local life there, like teahouses in Rasht, the capital of Gilan Province, and Bushehr, the capital of Bushehr Province that perform live folk music.
   
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