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Iraqi Tea


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#1 Hassouni

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Posted 04 October 2011 - 04:30 PM

Hello everyone! First post here, and I think there's no better first post than one about something very close to my heart: Iraqi-style tea.

Growing up half-Iraqi meant a lot of tea in my house, for Iraqis are truly obsessed with the stuff. While I grew up drinking all kinds of tea, and still do, the style associated with Iraq in particular is an extension of the Russian-Turkish-Iranian samovar-brewed tea, in which a tea concentrate (in Russian zavarka, in Arabic no idea) is brewed in a teapot and slowly steamed on top of either the boiler of a samovar, or a kettle on which the teapot sits. Iraq is the only Arab country to brew tea like this, likely an impact of centuries of Ottoman and Persian influence; however, Iraqis drink tea far stronger than Turks and especially Iranians - the tea in Turkey comes close, but the Iraqi stuff is truly powerful.

To make it, Ceylon tea is preferred - I'm constantly trying new brands but so far my favorite is Alwazah FBOP1, available at many Middle Eastern shops. An inordinate amount of tea is put in the pot (I put about 6 tablespoons for a full teapot that holds about 700-800 ml), and I then place the pot on top of the opening of the kettle to heat up as the water in the kettle comes to the boil. When the water has boiled, pour some into the kettle, give it a stir then place it back on top of the kettle (which should still have a lot of water in it). Put the kettle to medium-low heat, so that the water simmers and produces steam, which will heat the teapot. Let the tea brew for at least 15 minutes, the longer the better.

After 15 or so minutes, depending on how strong you want your tea to be, fill a small glass anywhere from 1/3 to 2/3 full with tea concentrate, and top off with simmering water. When more than half full especially, the tea is drunk very sweet, as sugar is needed to balance the intense taste of the tea. Traditionally, you would serve your guest as follows: put the tea glass on a saucer, put sugar (two teaspoons at least, though I find this exceptionally sweet) in the glass first, then pour tea concentrate and top off with hot water. Then place a small teaspoon into the tea, but do not stir to dissolve the sugar - at this point give everything to your guest for him or her to stir and enjoy.

When made properly, with the right glassware, it should look something like this:

Posted Image

When served at an Iraqi restaurant or teahouse, the tea will be a few shades darker, and will come with a thick layer of un-dissolved sugar at the bottom, and of course will have the spoon sticking in the tea.

People that have been to Turkey or had tea at Turkish restaurants may notice a similarity, and the two styles are identical except for the increased strength of the Iraqi style, and the fact that Turkish tea is served with sugar cubes on the side. When I write that the stuff is strong, I'm not kidding - it's like the tea equivalent of espresso, and two of those glasses at full strength (filled 2/3 of the way or not more) have me wired as much as a couple shots. Great stuff!

Edit: I forgot to say, if you don't have a samovar or a kettle that will accommodate a teapot placed on top, you can heat the teapot on EXTREMELY low heat on your stove. This is sort of what teahouses in Iraq seem to do (based on pictures), and it actually simmers the tea, which lends to the atomic strength that Iraqi teahouse tea is famous for

Edited by Hassouni, 04 October 2011 - 04:32 PM.


#2 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 04 October 2011 - 04:41 PM

Thanks for introducing us to Iraqi tea, Hassouni.

#3 andiesenji

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Posted 04 October 2011 - 04:47 PM

Welcome to the forum and thanks for this very interesting post, Hassouni. I have met several Iraqi ex-pats and have had tea with them but usually just regular tea brewed much longer than is "normal" for most Westerners.

Your description is exceptionally detailed and is much appreciated.

I have one of the "samovars" you described, purchased at a local middle eastern market but I have never brewed tea in it. I simply got it for my collection.
I have tried several times to buy antique samovars on eBay but was always outbid.
"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett
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#4 Hassouni

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Posted 04 October 2011 - 04:53 PM

Is your samovar electric or charcoal-fired? I really want a samovar, but that'll only happen when I'm living on my own...

#5 Lisa Shock

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Posted 04 October 2011 - 05:01 PM

Thanks for educating us!

How hot is the glass? Are they hard to hold? Do Iraqi people ever use those metal holders with handles for the glasses, like I have seen used in Russia?

#6 andiesenji

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Posted 04 October 2011 - 05:35 PM

Is your samovar electric or charcoal-fired? I really want a samovar, but that'll only happen when I'm living on my own...



It is made for use on a stove - they also sell a brazier - charcoal to use with it or with a rice pot or tagines, but I only bought the samovar.
It's like this one that on Amazon is called a Turkish teapot. In the store it was labeled just "samovar."
The also had one like this one but it had a big dent in it and they couldn't estimate when they would get another shipment.
"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett
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#7 Hassouni

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Posted 04 October 2011 - 05:58 PM

Thanks for educating us!

How hot is the glass? Are they hard to hold? Do Iraqi people ever use those metal holders with handles for the glasses, like I have seen used in Russia?


The glass is quite hot indeed, the whole thing when done right is almost boiling, though. I've heard stories of ex-military guys who drank tea in Iraq that had burned mouths because they gulped it! In general you want to sip. As for fingers and holding, when you first get the glass, hold it between thumb and forefinger at the very top. It takes some getting used to, though I guess if you cook a lot you may have heat-resistant fingers anyway. To my knowledge, the metal holders are never used.

Interestingly, those holders in Russian are called podstakannik, which means "under the glass" or something like that, with "stakan" meaning glass. The Iraqi Arabic word for those hourglass-shaped teaglasses is stikaan/istikaan, a clear borrowing from Russian.



Is your samovar electric or charcoal-fired? I really want a samovar, but that'll only happen when I'm living on my own...



It is made for use on a stove - they also sell a brazier - charcoal to use with it or with a rice pot or tagines, but I only bought the samovar.
It's like this one that on Amazon is called a Turkish teapot. In the store it was labeled just "samovar."
The also had one like this one but it had a big dent in it and they couldn't estimate when they would get another shipment.


Ahh, that's not actually a samovar, that in Turkish is called a çaydanlık, and is exactly what I meant by stacking the teapot on top of the kettle. I don't think there's a word in Arabic for them, but in the Iraqi dialect a teapot is "qouri" (a Persian borrowing) and the kettle is "keitli" (obviously borrowed from "kettle") Everywhere in Turkey and in Turkish homes and Iraqi homes (at least in the West), that's by far the most common setup. Iranians tend to favor actual samovars, such as these. That being said the overall result is the same, samovars are just cooler and a bit easier to not burn yourself due to the steam...

Edited by Hassouni, 04 October 2011 - 06:00 PM.


#8 Hassouni

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Posted 04 October 2011 - 06:02 PM

I should also mention that just as in Russian, Turkish, and Persian, Iraqis call tea "chai." In formal Arabic and in other Arabic dialects it is pronounced "shai" (like shy), since most other Arabic dialects do not have the ch-sound that Iraqi and a couple others have.

Needless to say, hearing "chai tea" just annoys me :biggrin:

#9 andiesenji

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Posted 04 October 2011 - 08:00 PM

Needless to say, hearing "chai tea" just annoys me :biggrin:



Me too - also asking for a "latte" when they mean a caffe latte.


I know what a real samovar is. I've been trying to buy an antique one for years but every one I wanted went out of sight in price.
Many ex-pat Russians - there are many in the L.A. area, are buying up traditional Russian antiques.

I'm looking for one similar to this, only in copper.
"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett
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#10 Hassouni

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Posted 04 October 2011 - 08:42 PM

Hmm, haven't seen many in copper, most are brass or steel that I've seen. There are always loads on eBay, I look there from time to time wistfully hoping for when I have my own kitchen

#11 threestars

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Posted 04 October 2011 - 11:41 PM

Welcome to the forum! That's a very interesting post. Had a good read. Thanks for the info Hassouni! I haven't tried Iraqui Tea but it sounds like great. :)

#12 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 08:29 PM

After several years of regularly drinking tea from a thermos, which was brewed several hours ahead of use, I've realized that some teas actually seem to mellow in a very pleasant way after brewing, especially the deeply roasted oolongs and shu puerhs. Other teas, like whites and greens and lighter oolongs, may both lose the elements that are so pleasing and actively develop bitter and unpleasant flavors. I have to imagine tea selection is critical for his type of 'concentrated' brewing. Have you ever heard of anyone using other than a black tea this way?

#13 Hassouni

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 08:45 PM

Wholemeal,

I absolutely know what you mean. Certain black teas, even many other Ceylons, when brewed this way become overwhelmingly astringent and bitter, even with sugar added. One reason I like Alwazah so much is that the flavor just gets "deeper," if that makes sense - more concentrated without getting overly tannic, if that's the right word. Of course some bitterness and astringency develops, but some brands are a lot worse. Turkish tea (that's actually grown in Turkey) can typically be brewed for hours without getting very bitter, but it tends not to get that "deep" flavor. Interestingly, I often make more tea than I can consume in one day, and have been known to boil some fresh water and reheat the concentrate the next morning - with Alwazah, almost all bitterness is gone and just that deep flavor is left, however I think some bitterness/sharpness/whatever is necessary to the experience.

As for anything besides black tea, samovar/çaydanlık culture evolved around black tea, so no, I haven't heard of anyone using anything else. A lot of herbal teas like rooibos and whatever else can be steeped forever though, so they may be worth trying.

#14 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 06 October 2011 - 11:35 AM

I am really intrigued by this method, Hassouni. Now to look for the Alwazah FBOP1 in the next week or two.

#15 Hassouni

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Posted 06 October 2011 - 01:04 PM

By all means try it with other Ceylon blacks too! I'll tell you now that Ahmad Ceylon doesn't work so well, and I would guess that the brands market for Persian consumers wouldn't either - Persians, who also use the samovar method, drink their tea VERY weak, which sort of defeats the purpose. However, I'm always looking for new teas to try, I just don't like buying half a kilo at a time then discovering it's not very good. I also haven't tried any of the other Alwazah varieties.

I would strongly suggest looking for the tea in Middle Eastern shops (Lebanese or Iranian, less so Turkish markets, that tend to sell Turkish tea, which is good, but doesn't reach the same strength as the Sri Lankan brands meant for the Arab market) or even Indian/Pakistani shops.

Oh by the way, I can't believe I didn't mention this, but as is common in many parts of the Middle East and South Asia (though definitely NOT Turkey), Iraqi-style tea is often brewed with cardamom, either several cracked cardamom pods, or even cardamom-scented tea, which both Alwazah and Ahmad both produce. This is typically drunk in the afternoon or evening, with un-spiced tea de rigeur in the morning.

Also, some Iraqis have their morning tea in a larger glass or even mug, often with milk. This is in stark contrast with Iraq's neighbors Iran and Turkey, where milk never goes in tea, and I suspect is a legacy of habits brought by British colonialism and the numerous Indian cooks who worked in Iraq a few generations ago.

Edited by Hassouni, 06 October 2011 - 01:09 PM.


#16 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 06 October 2011 - 01:30 PM

Thanks, I know of at lest one Lebanese shop in an area that probably has a few more. I have a couple of favorite, complex Ceylons from TeaSource.com that may work, too - though I have never tried brewing them to this strength. They are so smooth that they may be able to survive it.

#17 Hassouni

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Posted 06 October 2011 - 02:18 PM

I don't know about the Ceylons you have, but I assure you that the teashops in Iraq and Iraqi restaurants in the UK and the UAE that I've been to are not using anything remotely as high quality as something coming from an online tea specialist. O

However, if you give it a try, please do report your findings!

#18 Hassouni

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Posted 13 October 2011 - 01:29 PM

Ok so for those that decided to put their teapot on low heat on the stove vs. stacked on top of the kettle, here are some words of wisdom that I've found out the hard way just now...

Either use less tea in the pot than described above, or add less tea concentrate to your glass, because wow, the stove-brewed tea is WAY stronger than the steam-brewed tea on top of the kettle. (I almost always use steam, so haven't really figured out the perfect way to do it on the stove yet)

#19 CKatCook

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Posted 13 November 2011 - 12:27 PM

I am very intriqued by this thread. I have always wanted to try tea that is brewed this way but didn't know how to go about it. I have a box of the Ahmad cardamom tea and for a while I was drinking that in the morning. I never put milk in tea, but I am curious enough to try it, I guess I never did simply because I could never get the tea strong enough using "American" black teas.

I am going to have to go and look for some Alwazah tea.

Anything to replace that *gulp* coffee I have been slurping down in the morning. :)
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#20 Naftal

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Posted 18 June 2014 - 12:32 PM

Hello- I recently had some exceptional-read "wonderfully strong"-tea at a Chaldean restaurant. I would consider that Iraqi. Hassouni, you are the expert in this, so I would like your opinion: Is Chaldean tea, in fact, Iraqi tea?

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#21 Hassouni

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Posted 18 June 2014 - 02:06 PM

Yes - Chaldeans are Iraqi Christians (one of the two main types along with Assyrians), from the North of Iraq and also from Baghdad, so that tea is definitely Iraqi. By SE Michigan, are you near Dearborn? There are LOTS of Iraqis there, and a disproportionately high number of Chaldeans and Assyrians (and by extension, a lot of Iraqi restaurants run by Chaldeans and Assyrians).


Edited by Hassouni, 18 June 2014 - 02:08 PM.


#22 Naftal

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Posted 18 June 2014 - 03:46 PM

Yes - Chaldeans are Iraqi Christians (one of the two main types along with Assyrians), from the North of Iraq and also from Baghdad, so that tea is definitely Iraqi. By SE Michigan, are you near Dearborn? There are LOTS of Iraqis there, and a disproportionately high number of Chaldeans and Assyrians (and by extension, a lot of Iraqi restaurants run by Chaldeans and Assyrians).

Hello- I live north of Dearborn, in a suburb with a large Chaldean population. One of my favorite places to shop is the local Chaldean Market!

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