I recently promised myself to not post any food pictures on my Instagram account. Frankly, there are enough pictures taken in cafes by Iranians already. A hashtag #bezan — literally meaning “hit,” and in slang “eat,” in Persian — has garnered a number of cafe pictures for all to see. Here, however, I want to explore the recent boom of creative cafe spaces in Iran.
About two years ago, cafes started to spring up rapidly around Iran — especially in the country’s capital of Tehran. I took two trips to Iran between August 2015 to December 2015, and was amazed at all the new cafes that opened suddenly over such a short period of time. There is no franchise system in Iran, so all the cafes are started by individuals. Two or three domestic companies like Lamiz Coffee, Raees Coffee and Viuna Cafe are beginning to push their brands, but even they aim to give off creative vibes with unique design inside each of their cafes. In my experience, the service in cafes in Iran is outstanding. Baristas and waiters provide table service, and free wi-fi is always present.
Modern coffee shops in Iran have grown into popular places to socialize. Several years ago, Iranian schoolmates had to gather in someone’s home; now, young people meet up at these coffee shops, which are located mostly in central and northern Tehran. Groups are almost always young people, and they are sometimes religious. Coffee shops are places where boys and girls can meet freely. Smoking and live music are usually allowed. This signifies a major change for Iran, which has seen stricter restrictions in the past.
Cafe menus offer everything from Italian espresso to local herbal tea. Iranian young people are beginning to meet up for brunch, too — a meal so Western it hadn’t made its way to the country a few years ago. Personally, I really need an incentive to wake up early on Friday mornings (the weekend officially starts on Friday in Tehran). Brunch is so popular that sometimes you have to call ahead to make a reservation to ensure a seat in one of these busy cafes on weekend afternoons.