Russian tea drinking

Let’s be honest, the drink we tend to associate with Russia is vodka – but tea, in fact, is a much more popular beverage choice throughout the country. It is believed that British drink a lot of tea, but from our students’ experience Russian families can outdo them.

Russians discovered tea when it was introduced by Mongolians as a gift to Tsar Michael I. Initially, drinking tea was a rather expensive activity and only the elite was able to afford it. Yet, over time the price has gradually dropped and it quickly became the nation’s favourite drink.

Samovar (самовар) and traditions

Traditionally, tea drinking in Russia would include samovar (самовар). Samovar, that literally means «self-boiler» in Russian, is a heated metal device used by Russians to heat up water for tea (like the one you can see on the image). Russian literature often talks of samovar as a symbol of Russian hospitality. No family gathering would be complete without samovar that is often associated with a sense of cosiness and comfort. Apart from the samovar, a real Russian tea party would also include black tea, блины (crepes), сушки (sushki), варенье (jam), honey, condensed sweet milk, sugar cubes and slices of lemon. Interestingly, lemon plays an important part in Russian tea drinking tradition. In fact, the whole world believes that tea with a slice of lemon is a Russian invention as it is often called «Russian tea». Furthermore, it is impossible to imagine a traditional Russian tea drinking without the cups in cup holders and a porcelain set.

Russian Caravan

Perhaps, you’ve heard and even tasted Russian Caravan tea. This blend of China’s black keemun, oolong and lapsang souchong teas has an interesting history behind it. It acquired its name from the camel caravans that travelled along «The Great Tea Road» to bring tea from China to Europe. The route of six thousand miles would take its travellers all the way from the Great Wall of China, through Gobi Desert, Mongolia and Russian Siberia to European capitals. Such journey would usually last between 16 and 18 months. It is said that Russian Caravan tea would have acquired its distinctive smoky flavour during the journey from the caravan’s campfires.

Tea drinking in modern Russia

In modern Russia samovars are, unfortunately, rarely used to boil water for tea. Moreover, Russians do not dilute the tea brew (заварка) in the cup with boiling water anymore. Nowadays they prefer to use tea bags for convenience. Furthermore, Russians used to drink tea in the afternoons only, but it has since become an all-day drink. They drink it to warm up, they serve it to guests as a welcome gesture and drink it in the kitchen with friends and family whilst talking about life (чайные посиделки). There is no doubt that tea in Russia is more than a hot beverage – it is an important part of the Russian culture as it embodies a true Russian happiness.

Happy tea drinking!

Team EBC