Thursday, January 24, 2013

305. Iraqi Tea: Chai Istikan

Great poetry has been written about the perfect brew of tea.
Tea has been around for much longer than coffee, and holds a place near and dear to every culture on the face of this Earth.

The Japanese have an elaborate tea ceremony.
The Chinese can fill a grocery shop composed solely of their various teas.
The British made afternoon tea-time just as important as breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Americans had their (in)famous Boston Tea Party.
And the Iraqis? Well the Iraqis probably drink tea just as much as water.
Tea bags are a horrifying joke. Only loose tea leaves are used, and of your own choice. Ceylon an earl grey are the most common, and a particular favorite amongst the Iraqi households is Ahmad tea, a British-made special blend with earl grey. They say the word istikan (the small glass the tea is served in) originated from the time when the British colonized Iraq and would ask for "east tea can," referring to a can of tea imported from the East (India, Sri Lanka). So this developed into the famous istkan (جاي أو شاي إستكان).
Iraqis love their tea year-round. You can even see them sipping the steaming istikans outside local cafés in the middle of a scorching summer day.
Iraqis also like their sugar, so the istikans are generously spooned with sugar before the tea is poured, and the swirling sugar as the tea is stirred is a comforting joy every time (it also prevents the glass from cracking under the heat).
If your tea is fragrant, like Ahmed tea is, then that's great. Otherwise, add a few cracked cardamom pods to the leaves before simmering.
A big thanks to Nadia, who is a reader of MCW and whom I consider a friend, to request this post. Were it not for her request, I probably would never have posted it as it is, to me, an everyday thing that is easily overlooked. 


2 Tbsp loose tea
4 cups pure water


In a kettle, place the tea leaves and the cold water.
Bring the water slowly to a simmer.
It is important to not let the water boil, as this will render the tea bitter.
Simmer the tea for 7 to 10 minutes.
Serve in istikans, with sugar and a side of kleicha.

Alternatively, place the kettle with the tea over another kettle with vigorously boiling water.
This indirect heat method to brew the tea will ensure that you do not boil the tea at any point, thus avoiding the bitterness.

If some find the tea too dark, you could fill the istikan half-way and top with plain boiled water.

 صحة و عافية


Anonymous said...

ty so much,,..beautiful pics and post...nadia

Maryam Mohammed said...

The pleasure was all mine :)

zahraa said...

Salaams Maryam, love your blog...very detailed and interesting facts accompanying the delicious recipes you've graciously pictured and shared with us all!

As far as the tea goes, it's so true we(Iraqis) drink it as much as water. Tea is so comforting and to many it hold sentimental value!

So you don't boil a big kettle and pour boiling water over loose tea in over in the smaller kettle?

Maryam Mohammed said...

Salam Zahraa, welcome to MCW!
Thank you for your lovely words and sentiment, I appreciate it very much.
I put cold water with the tea leaves, because more ofen than not, if I pour boiled water over the tea it might get bitter.
Thanks for your comment and inquiry, and welcome back any time!

Anonymous said...

I often wondered what the little glasses were called!

Denise Ahmad said...

The next time I make chai which will be for Thanksgiving(last year I made American food and barely anyone ate this year I will make Iraqi food too) I will try it this way. My husband says I either make it too strong or too weak. I have no middle, we have the same picture hanging in out living room.

Maryam Mohammed said...

I love this picture, it's so romantic and unmistakably Iraqi!
I hope this method works out for you, Denise.

Denise Ahmad said...

I was able to make this Chai for thanksgiving and it turned out perfect! Alhamdulillah

Maryam Mohammed said...

Wonderful! Congratulations!