Iranian coffee houses

Renate van der Zee has fallen in love with Iran and the people who live there. In Tehran, she discovered lots of lovely coffee houses where young Iranians like to meet and mingle, and in Issue 36 she tells us about them.

When I first entered No.65 Yard café in the Iranian capital of Tehran, I couldn’t have been more surprised. This coffee house, tucked away discretely yet right in the center of the Iranian capital, was like a hip living room with pots and plants everywhere, shelves full of books, furniture in cheerful colors and fresh flowers on the tables. The best part was the courtyard, where young women wearing colorful headscarves sat chatting with young men under the leaves of an ancient tree covered with tiny birdhouses.

Die-hard coffee and tea drinkers

It was nice to be able to order a good cappuccino in a country of die-hard tea drinkers, but what impressed me most was the attention to detail with which this modern café had been decorated and the relaxed atmosphere of the place. The owners are two young women, and one of them, Negin Nasiri, happened to be there that day. She told me how she and her friend, Shaghayegh Jahanbani, once started up a workplace where they made furniture printed with traditional silk prints.

Customers could pick the colors and the prints themselves. “As the first female furniture makers in Tehran, we became a little bit famous,” she explained. “Next door to the furniture studio, we started an advertising studio from which we earned good money, and we were looking for ways to invest that money.

In the meantime, we had joined forces with another business partner, and because he was a professional barista, we decided to start a coffee house.”

Comfortable and relaxed

They found an old school in the center of town that was empty and renovated it from the ground up. “We wanted our café to be a really comfortable place where people could just relax,” she told me. “And we succeeded, because that’s exactly what our customers always say: ‘We feel relaxed here’.”

I was surprised to encounter such a hip coffee shop, run by young women, in this Islamic republic. The Iranian theater producer I met up with at No.65 Yard laughed at my surprise. “There are lots of great cafés here in Tehran,” he said. “In recent years, more and more are popping up and people love to meet there. You just have to know where to find them.”

  • Read Renate’s complete article on Iranian coffee houses in Issue 36.

This feature was written before the coronavirus hit and severely restricted public and private gatherings of people throughout the world.

Text Renate van der Zee  Photography Maryam Firuzi