Russian tea was tea that was first brought to Russia by way of trade with China in the 1600’s. The Ambassador to Moscow brought many gifts to the then Tsar Aleksey Mikhaylovich. Some of those gifts were chests of tea. The Tsar enjoyed this tea and ordered trade to continue and to include tea to be one item always traded for. Russia continued to trade between them and China. But this relationship became strained, however. There were continual border disputes, because a group known as the Cossacks also colonized the area where the trade route went through. This border area was very barren and mountainous in parts. This made the trade a long and arduous journey to begin with. The caravans were not willing to make the trip at times. It was said that a normal journey without border disputes would take sometimes upwards to sixteen long months!
Of course tea became a luxury item and with all the factors included this simply drove the cost of tea sky high!
Tea was very appealing to the Russians though; this beverage provided warmth and was hearty. Very, very slowly starting with the 1700’s tea began to creep into the general Russian society. The Russian tea is one that is a strong brew, is not creamed but is sweetened with sugars, honey, or even jam! Tea for the Russians was almost like a food source.
The Russians adopted several Tibetan mountain customs as the Russians formulated their own customs. The Russians loved the “Samovar”. This is a type of tiny teapot from Tibet that the water is boiled in the pot and served as a heater too. The Russians also adopted what is known as “podstakanniki”. These are tea cups that are made from tempered glass that have silver handled holders. This is similar to many of the Turkish tea cups.
Soon the Trans-Siberian railroad was built and the caravans no longer had to endure those treacherous treks. The railroad was now bringing in the tea from China. Like so many other nations receiving tea from China, Russia continued to adopt its own recipes to its taste and culture. The Russian tea would be made in separate pots and was brewed very strong. Then the two teas would then be mixed in the individual cup and adding a bit more water to dilute. This was an interesting way to brew tea. The pots actually sit atop one another. The pot on the very bottom contained the boiling hot water. The next pot contains the dark strong brewed tea and finally a pot with mint or fruited herbal tea. The Russians were saving on space in their homes as well as the pots kept each other warm and this “samovar” kept the house warm too. Soon this “samovar” became the centerpiece to any Russian house-hold. The Samovar varied in size. The Russians constructed them in very tiny sizes to very large (one on record holding up to 250 liters of liquid). They were all made in the metalworking hub of the city of Tula. They were manufactured in many metals such as bronze, or Copper, or Silver. Silver was the most popular and was the least expensive.
When earlier on, when tea was only for the royal or rich; the Samovar also became a status symbol. The Samovar was elevated to a work of art. But tea still became associated with Russian hospitality. So littler Samovars were produced to make them more affordable. The Russian tradition is that the “woman of the home” would serve tea to family and guests. Some wealthy homes had several Samovars and only one would be used as an everyday Samovar. Today, Samovars are made with electricity. Back in the early days, the Samovar was fueled by charcoal, or wood. The Samovar today is modern but museum quality Samovars are still produced today and are quite novel. Works of art made with finer metals and even decorated with fine paintings.
Russians continue to love their tea. Publicly one can find tea in restaurants, street vendors, train stations, and airports, and in homes. Everyone can now own a Samovar.
In Russia tea does not have a “time”. It was/and is a symbol of warmth and comfort. And is a source of hospitality. It is available day and night, and whenever there is a gathering.
My next story is on the Russian Imperial Ballet and the creation of the Russian Tea Room, and the Russian tea recipe.
Won’t you follow me as I travel around the world one tea cup at a time?