Iran's youth culture revives coffee house tradition

Wed Feb 16, 2011 12:46pm EST
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By Mitra Amiri

TEHRAN (Reuters Life!) - Farshid Aslani will happily tell you his own theory about the discovery of coffee and its origins in Iran if you ask him.

"Around 600 years after Christ, a shepherd found some dry seeds under a bush while grazing his sheep and goats on the mountain slopes of the Iranian plateau," the owner of Tehran's popular Raees Coffee chain of cafes said.

While his history of coffee may be obscure and certainly unheard of in the West, Aslani's cafes and the growing popularity of coffee houses in Iran offering Wi-Fi, snacks, hot drinks and a place to hang out will be strikingly familiar to coffee culture enthusiasts from London to Los Angeles.

Even the circular green logo etched on the windows and printed on the aprons worn by baristas at the four Raees coffee houses in Tehran are so reminiscent of international coffee giant Starbucks - which like most U.S. chains has no presence in the Islamic Republic -- that Starbucks tried to sue, according to copies of Tehran court documents seen by Reuters.

The legal action had no impact and Raees still uses the logo which, in place of a mermaid with flowing locks of hair, has a man wearing a top hat. Its cafes also sell Starbucks-branded merchandise including mugs and flasks.

"Raees only has four branches, while Starbucks is the largest coffee house company in the world. We are not comparable to Starbucks," said Aslani, proudly wearing a pin with the Raees logo attached to his pullover.


But in a country where there are no bars, as alcohol is banned, Raees has proved popular since its first cafe opened in December 2001, offering both a modern environment, complete with wireless Internet access, and -- a first in Iran -- takeaway coffee.   Continued...

<p>Iranian youths sit in a branch of the Raees Coffee chain in Tehran February 5, 2011. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl</p>