Tea Culture and Tea Traditions of Eastern Europe


Tea Drinking Culture in Russia
Tea History of Eastern Europe
It was the route through the sea that was given priority to import tea from China and India to Europe, but roads over land also helped spread tea to these western countries. The well-known Silk Road is worth mentioning here. It is also known as the “Tea Horse Road". Tea was brought in caravans straight from China to Russia using these land bound pathways. It was from Russia that tea spread to other Eastern European countries. The samovar is an ideal example of the Russian influence of tea in these countries, as well as in the Middle East. This trade happened as early as the 17th century. With the development of a tea culture in a surrounding countries, and the English taking it all over the world, the Eastern European countries also joined the bandwagon.
Types of Tea consumed in Eastern Europe
In Czech Republic for example it is a common sight to see tea rooms, similar to what exists in the UK and also tea palaces who would offer up to eighty varieties of tea from almost every country who produces it. To improve their clientele different restaurants or tea houses and tea rooms have created unique blends as well as different methods of preparation and serving. In Slovakia for example every town has a tea room or a tea house. They are visited mainly for their signature calm environment and quiet music. It is also said that Slovakian tea rooms prohibit smoking, making non-smokers attracted to them.
The region of Eastern Europe is divided to two parts due to drinking habits of tea. This is because some countries followed Russia and prefer black tea; those are countries such as Poland and Belarus. The other group is geographically separated from Russia and are more faithful to newer varieties of teas such as herbal tea and fruit teas. This group of countries are found more towards Southeast and includes Romania, Croatia and Austria.
Albanians love tea and it is consumed at home, or served in restaurants and cafés. They prefer the “Russian” black tea with sugar, lemon, milk or honey, and also consume an herb tea grown in Albanian highlands, aptly named “mountain tea.” In Kosovo, the most popular teas include black tea, rose hip tea, peppermint tea and mountain tea.
Countries such as Estonia and Romania consume a lot of herbal teas. There are “stress teas” and more common herb-infused varieties such as chamomile and spice teas. Iced tea has made an entrance and is gaining popularity as a RTD (Ready To Drink) beverage with regional fruity flavours.
Tea Customs of Eastern Europe
Tea plays a significant part in hospitality in some Eastern European countries, especially ones influenced by Russia.
In Latvia people are not happy unless and until they have had a cup of tea after every meal. They drink tea from glass cups which has holders named podstakannik. Most Latvians use a tea cosy which is called a “cloth baba”. Latvians never put milk in their tea.
In Poland the inter-war saw a heightening of tea trade with the opening of tea houses and tea shops. A new fashionable ritual developed called “faify” which was actually a tea party held in the afternoon. The term is derived from “5’O clock tea”. It was popular because it didn't require special preparations but was a comfortable gathering of people to have a discussion over tea. In 1936 a magazine wrote “some tea, a little rum, lemon slices, small canopies, cookies and biscuits served on trays” was a faify.
Herbal teas are considered a remedy for coughs and colds, and are taken as a customary medicine in Romania and Hungary. Croatians mostly drink black and peppermint tea, they have a unique take on it where tea is served with rum.
Albanians and Kosovars are familiar with the Arab tea which they call “çay”, pronounced “chai” which has its roots in Chinese. Following the Middle Eastern practice, they also gather around in shops to have tea in tulip shaped glasses, and discuss day-to-day issues.
Eastern Europeans enjoy their tea with “Kolachy cookies” which is type of a pastry made of cream cheese with a filling of jam. In Poland they serve tea with a dessert; herbatniki, a popular Polish biscuit, polish cakes or the famous dumpling in Poland, pierogi.
Tea ceremonies in Eastern Europe
In addition to faify in Poland, countries such as Romania have their own tea ceremonies and customs. During summer Romanian women consume a lot of chilled tea that is a non-carbonated drink which is sweetened. In large cities there are “ceanaries” which offer a full spread of teas.
Also in Warsaw, Poland, they have "dancing teas" which were organised to have participants taste tea, and of course, dance. It is also reported that families with financial difficulties served tea in the place of champagne at weddings.
Tea was brewed in samovars in Eastern European countries who followed Russian traditions, while other countries used the teapot to do it. Albania and Kosovo are two Eastern European countries who love their tea; they consume it with sugar cubes in small tulip glasses while discussing the news. In Belarus, black tea is a favourite drink, at home and outside.
In Estonia tea is enjoyed in cafés where people gather to watch television or read the newspaper and talk about day-to-day events. Most Eastern Europeans have their tea with a piece of something sweet such as cake or a local sweetmeat. Estonians have a custom of taking a guest’s refusal for tea as nonoffensive, as opposed to most cultures view of that being rude.
Teaware of Eastern Europe
Due to the Russian influence countries such as Belarus and Poland use the samovar to brew their tea. They also use the glasses similar to that which are used in Russia and Middle Eastern countries. The famed podstakannik, Russian invention which is attached to a glass for it to be held with a handle is also used in some of these countries. The podstakannik is made of a metal and its primary objective is for a hot glass of tea to be held safely.
Bulgaria for example is home to beautifully designed tea kettles made in porcelain. Other Eastern European countries also carry glasses and kettles as well as samovars that are intricately designed, occasionally with silver or gold plated metal.
Countries such as Estonia consume herbal teas like chamomile tea and they are usually taken in small glasses. Most Eastern European countries follow some well-known British traditions of using a tea cosy (called cloth baba in Latvia) and having a full tea tray complete with kettle, glasses and a silver tray.
Albanians and Kosovars use the small tulip shaped glasses decorated in golden colour for their tea. It is offered in the tea shops and tea rooms all throughout the day. Eastern Europe has a high tea consumption rate due to Russia being a part of it.