Tea Culture and Tea Traditions of Russia


Tea Drinking Culture in Russia
Tea History of Russia
China used to transport tea through the Gobi desert to Russia in big caravans. This journey sometimes took as long as 18 months, and owing to the difficulties in travel, tea was so expensive only royals could afford it. These exorbitant costs stopped some traders from bringing tea to Russia. Official introduction of tea to Russia was in 1638 when a Mongolian King sent four packs of tea to the Tsar, Michael the First. Tea was thus introduced in Russia and in 1679 a business agreement for regular supply from China was finalized in exchange of fur. In 1689 Russia won over Siberia and created the tea road between China and Russia. By 1796 Russia imported more than 3 million pounds of tea, for the rich and the poor alike to taste this delicious beverage.
Types of Tea consumed in Russia
From the very first time, until today, Russians are in love with black tea. Green tea is also becoming somewhat popular in the country.
Traditional varieties include a tea known as “Russian caravan tea”. It is thus named because it was originally brought from China in Camel caravans and a specific smoky flavor was imprinted in the tea by being stored and open to campfires for close to 18 months during the long trip from China. Today the same smoky flavour is given to it by fermentation.
Russians also prefer loose or oolong tea from countries such as China and Taiwan. They prefer leaf tea because it can be easily mixed and brewed with condiments and spices as well as herbs. Lemon is the most frequently used addition.
Russia also grows a small amount of tea which has a light flavor and a deep red colour. They like to flavour the teas with fruity extracts such as lemon and berries. Mint tea is also a popular drink in Russia.
Russians are moving towards packaged teas, rather than bottled loose leaf variety. This is because the loose tea leaves come in glass bottles, of which the cost is high. They consume a staggering 85% of black tea, and only 9% of green tea. Other herbal and specialty teas make up the rest.
Tea Customs of Russia
Russians have a custom of brewing tea in two steps. The first step is to prepare the tea concentrate named “zavarka”. For this, a slight amount of loose tea is put in a small teapot. For the second step each drinker pours a bit of this concentrate into their own cups and mixes it with hot water from a kettle. This allows for each participant to make the tea according to the strength they prefer. After the tea is prepared, sugar, honey, or lemon is added. Some add jam as well.
Every family has their own Samovar. The teapot is usually kept on top of the samovar to be brewed. Tea is usually offered with snacks and sweet items like hard cookies. The snacks include cheese and even meat items. Their cookie is known as “sushki”.
As a general principle Russians don't mix their tea with milk. They gather to have tea as a family. Russian families will chat over tea and a selection of pastries, confections, jams and other snacks for hours. During these gatherings tea bags are not used at all. Sugar cubes are offered but most of the time it's either bitten off before taking a sip of tea rather than being put to the tea and stirred in. Jam is served customarily, and it is a peculiar tradition in Russia to serve tea with jam.
In snack front, Russia pairs their tea with sliced charcuterie (prepared meat products), cheese, and sweet items such as “Sushkie” - a cookie in a ring-shape eaten after dipping in tea. Sweets from the Soviet era such as Kozinaki (seed and nut bar), and soya bars are still enjoyed with other sweets while having tea like Chak-chack, pastels, Snow cookies and yummy vatrushka.
Tea ceremonies in Russia
Tea ceremonies around an authentic samovar heated on coal is not a common occurrence today. With modern conveniences most families have adapted the electric samovars.
It is said the Russian tea ceremony started in 1638 when the Tsar Michael Fedorovich accepted a diplomatic offering of tea from Mongolia. Even though the tea ceremony is a frequent occurrence, it hasn’t stopped from Russians having tea after meals, during mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks as well. In the olden times after the supper table was cleared off the samovar would be placed in the center of the table and the whole family will gather around to have tea. With two kettles on top of each other the samovar is a truly beautiful creation.
Customs of the tea drinking ceremony and other associated behaviours is known commonly as chaepitie.
Even the great Alexander Pushkin has mentioned the role of tea in his writings. During the Soviet Russian era tea drinking was hugely popular in the day-to-day life of workers such as secretaries and clerks who were employed in offices. There are idioms and jokes which are connected to tea, showing how much of a link they have with this wonderful beverage. Tea is very popular in the Russian prisons. It is said they brew it to a very high strength, known as “chifir” to substitute it for alcohol.
Teaware of Russia
The samovar – a special kettle with a hollow metal pipe in the middle of it, to keep the surrounding water constantly hot - is the gift from Russia to the world. It is a symbol of Russian tea traditions.
The samovar is a fusion of a teapot and a brewing device. There are electric samovars today, without the old strategy of the pipe through its center. These samovars from the past were heated on top of coal or wood.
Customs and traditions of Russia have assisted to nurture a unique art of teaware including cups, teapots, tea caddies, tea cosies and more. A famous design is known as “Gjel” which is a blue and white motif quite commonly seen in Russian teaware. Most of the cups and teapots have graphic designs taken from the day-to-day life of the Russians incorporating animals and incidents mentioned in the Russian folklore.
Tea cosies in Russia are called "baba na samovar", meaning woman on samovar. Another unique and important invention is the podstakannik. It is a tea glass holder with a handle made in a metal and plated in nickel or silver and sometimes even gold. They have complicated patterns carved on them similar to the ones on tea pots and cups, depicting events in history, faces and filigree.