Tea in Lahijan
The history of tea culture in Iran started at the end of the 15th century. Before that coffee was the main beverage in Iran. However, most of the coffee producing countries were located far from Iran, making shipping very difficult. With a major tea producing country, China, located on a nearby trading path, "the silk road", and the shipping of tea was much easier. That was a main reason why tea became much popular in Iran. As a result, the demand for tea grew, and more tea needed to be imported to match Iran's consumption.
Iran failed in their first attempt to cultivate tea in their own country in 1882 with seeds from India. In 1899 Prince Mohammad Mirza known as "Kashef Al Saltaneh" who was born in Lahijan, imported Indian tea and started its cultivation in Lahijan. Kashef, who was the first mayor of Tehran and an Iranian ambassador to India under British rule, knew that the British would not allow him to learn about the secrets of tea production, as it was their biggest business in India at the time. So being fluent in French, the prince pretended to be a French laborer and started to work in the tea plantations and factories to learn how to produce tea. Ultimately his plan was to take back some samples of this tea to Iran to cultivate. He was successful in this endeavor only because of his diplomatic immunity which stopped the British from searching his secretly stashed sample. At the time, Kashef brought 3000 saplings into his country from the Northern part of India, Kangra. He started the cultivation in the region Gilan, south of the Caspian Sea. The climate there was well suited for tea cultivation, and the tea industry quickly expanded in Gilan and Mazanderan region. Kashef’s mausoleum in Lahijan is now part of the "Iran's National Tea Museum".
In 1934 the first modern style tea factory was built. Now there are up to 107 tea factories and a total of 32,000 hectare of tea farms.
Most of the farms are located the hillsides of Iran like the farms in Darjeeling. These farms produce an orthodox style of black tea. The color of Iranian tea is red and taste is fairly light, and it is delicious without adding any milk or sugar. The total production of black tea in 2009 was approximately 60’000 tons.
Tea in Lahijan
Historically, Lahijan is the first town in Iran to have tea plantations. With its mild weather, soil quality and fresh spring water, Lahijan stands to have the largest area of tea cultivation in Iran. One of the most notable families involved in the tea industry was the Fallahkhair family, owning hectares of tea farms controlling a vast majority of the industry's export.
But today the country's tea industry is deep in trouble and the verdant gardens that once sustained millions of farmers and their workers are used only for grazing sheep and other personal purposes. Despite having one of the world's most avid tea drinking populations, the Iranian tea economy is reeling from an influx of foreign imports and smugglers who, local traders complain, often have close family ties to powerful figures in the Islamic government. The consequences are plain to see. In Lahijan, the historic capital of Iran's tea industry, land that was once a lush vista of tea bushes is now occupied by houses and flats, built by tea factory owners who have moved into the building trade in response to their industry's decline. Several of the town's tea mills are derelict. Others are at a stand-still or operating at half capacity. Some 40% of the half-million tea farmers in tea-rich Gilan province have gone out of business, because the factories are no longer buying their crops. Hundreds of thousands of pickers have been forced out of work.