Café culture is thriving in Iran, nowhere more so than on the backstreets of its capital. The hundreds of modern style cafés dotted around Tehran provide a vibrant sense of cosmopolitanism, often juxtaposed with more traditional elements of city life. As well as a caffeine fix, coffee shops in Tehran offer young Iranians a space for open discussion, creative collaboration, and meeting new people. Here we review 10 of the best cafés in town.
Gol Rezaieh Café, located in central Tehran just opposite the Glass and Ceramics Museum, is full of character and history, as one of the oldest coffee shops in the city. Established over 70 years ago, it has a longstanding reputation as a hub of intellectual discussion and excellent coffee. Like many of Tehran’s cafés, due to Iran’s 20th century attitudes towards indoor smoking (and most other vices being officially prohibited), you can expect a thick cloud of smoke hanging over the clientele, as they no doubt discuss the latest political and literary developments. Worth visiting if you’re in the bazaar area.
Go down the third alley on the right off the main drag of the Tajrish bazaar and you will discover a delightful two storey traditional teahouse on the left. The top floor of the wooden-structured building provides carpeted platforms on which to recline, sip tea, and eat a traditional Iranian omelette if you are so inclined. It overlooks the central downstairs area, which is reserved for shisha-smoking (men only). Few teahouses can match the elegant simplicity of this establishment, the walls of which are adorned with fantastic Shia-themed paintings depicting the tragic events of Muharram.
Café Naderi is famous citywide as the erstwhile intellectual hangout for the A-list literati of mid-20th century Iran. Leading modernist writers and thinkers such as Sadeq Hedayat, Simin Daneshvar, and Jalal Al-e Ahmad could be found sipping tea and exchanging notes here during the 1940s and 1950s. Located on Jomhuri Street, these days Naderi is more of a tourist attraction, and feels more old-fashioned than quaint. Still, it does an excellent Turkish coffee, and the characterful old waiters (who no doubt remember the café’s heyday) ensure a memorable experience.
Address: Jomhuri Street, Tehran, Iran
The concrete, modernist home of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art is a must-see when visiting the capital. The museum, built in the 1970s, contains a more than impressive collection of works by artists including Picasso, Dalí, Monet, Bacon, and Warhol. The ground-floor café is the perfect venue to talk art and high culture with locals and tourists alike, or as a quiet spot read or simply people-watch.
Address: Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Laleh Park, Tehran, Iran,+98 21 8898 9375
More popular than the Cinema Museum with which is shares its grounds, the Cinema Café in Bagh-e Ferdos offers a quiet space to enjoy a fine selection of teas, coffees, milkshakes, and sandwiches. Larger than most Tehrani cafés (which are notoriously cramped), the Cinema Café has both indoor and outside seating and a reliable WiFi connection, making it an ideal place to spend an afternoon working. Often frequented by foreign students, it’s unsurprisingly a little pricier than most alternatives.
Gandhi Street in north Tehran has an entire enclave dedicated to housing some of the trendiest cafés in the capital. If you’re keen to meet Iranian hipsters and creative-types, and enjoy a fine blend of caffeinated goodness, spending afternoon or evening in the cafés of Gandhi shopping centre is probably your safest bet. Look out for Café Godot and Café de France in particular, for their Parisian-intellectual vibe.
Address: Gandhi Street, Tehran, Iran
An altogether alternative tea-drinking experience can be found in one of the city’s many workingmen’s chaykhunes, or traditional teahouses. Rough round the edges and with some brutal strip lighting, the underground teahouse on Enqelab Square exemplifies such establishments. The tea is practically free, you’ll be expected to smoke a shisha pipe, and with its boisterous atmosphere, it is perhaps the closest thing Iran has to a pub. Unfortunately, women are strictly prohibited from this type of venue, so be prepared for a testosterone-heavy atmosphere.
Address: Enqelab Square, Tehran, Iran