I keep reading how much better green tea is for you, but black tea (chaii) makes me feel good the minute I drink it! It is the ultimate picker upper with only 47 mg caffeine per 8 ounces. Black tea is loaded with antioxidants and is believed to lower cholesterol and also to be beneficial to the cardiovascular health. The brewed black tea is served with sugar cubes, other sweets and pastries or just black. Persians love their chaii with breakfast, at 10 a.m., after lunch, at 4 p.m., after dinner and sometimes at 11 p.m. This is not to say that necessarily all the Persians drink that much tea and at those specific times on a given day, for example my favorite tea time is late afternoon. What it does mean though is that no matter what time of the day you feel like drinking it, is the right time. It is a reward after a hard day’s work. It is a dessert after a satisfying meal. It is an aromatic drink to welcome the guests to one’s home. It is a social drink among friends who meet at the local teahouse or ghahveh khaneh, which oddly enough translates to coffee house. No coffee is served in these tea houses, they only serve lots of freshly brewed black tea with an abundant supply of sugar cubes. Ghahveh khaneh has been around since the early 1900s, maybe earlier.
Good quality loose black tea is naturally dark brown to black in color and consists of large leaves and very little powder. One of the best kinds of tea is Ceylon that has a very rich flavor, aroma and strength. Another very popular tea is Darjeeling which is a thin bodied, fruity tea that has a much lighter color when brewed. Some good loose black tea blends are readily available in the supermarkets such as, English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast that have a rich color and flavor. I would recommend making your own blend by mixing equal parts of English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast and Earl Grey tea for added fragrance. Some Middle Eastern markets also carry quality loose tea blends.
The traditional device for making tea is called samavar, which originates from Russia.
Another option is the combination of an electric kettle or a stove top kettle, a teapot, and an electric cup warmer. This is what I use; because unless you are making tea for a large number of people on a daily basis, you really don’t need a large and expensive samavar.
You boil fresh cold water in the electric kettle, pour it in the teapot over loose tea, and then steep it on the cup warmer.
You also cover the top of the teapot with a small napkin for more efficient brewing. Be careful that the napkin does not come in contact with the heated surface. Strain the brewed tea if you don’t want tea leaves in your serving cups.
UPDATE: A different version of black tea is called “Chaii Shirin” or “Shirin Chai” in Azeri; the English translation is sweet tea. So instead of serving a sugar cube or two on the side, the sugar is stirred in with the tea before drinking it.
A simple pouring technique creates the fun look of a two-colored tea as shown in the above photograph.
Technique: Add 2-3 teaspoons of granulated sugar to a clear tea glass. Pour 3 ounces of hot water to the glass and stir until the sugar dissolves. Next, tilt the glass slightly to one side and VERY gingerly and in a slow stream pour about 3 ounces of the full strength freshly brewed black tea into the glass. When you set the glass upright, the black tea will float on top of the clear sugar water. To drink, stir the tea and you will have Chaii Shirin!
Note: A reader reminded me of this fun childhood memory last night and I thank her for the comment and participation.
- 1 ½ TBSP loose tea leaves (English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Earl Grey mix)
- 2 cups cold water (freshly boiled) for steeping tea leaves
- Extra 6-8 cups of cold water for boiling
- Bring 2 cups of fresh cold water to a boil in an electric kettle or a stove top kettle.
- Add 1 ½ tablespoon loose tea to the teapot. Pour the hot boiling water over the tea leaves.
- Cover the teapot and place it over the cup warmer. Cover the top loosely with a folded napkin. Do not let the napkin come in contact with the heated surface.
- Steep the tea for 10-15 minutes, or until the desired color.
- Meanwhile boil 6-8 cups of fresh cold water in the electric kettle. Keep very hot.
- Use a strainer and pour about 2 ounces of the brewed tea into each tea glass. The strainer will catch the floating tea leaves.
- Fill each glass with freshly boiled hot water. Adjust the color to your taste.