Friday, 30 April 2010

History of tea coming to Russia

The largest tea consuming nation in Europe? Russia. I know the Irish drink more per capita. And the Russians aren’t really Europe, right? Well, sure they are. What’s wrong with you. All day, they swill from the samovar. Because it keeps the tea near a constant boil, this might be the perfect way to drink black tea. When in Moscow, drink it like the Moscovites. They take their muddy, dark tea strong and with a bit of lemon and a lot of sugar. A lot. No…more. Keep pouring the sugar. Or honey. Or jam. Jam? That’s right. Look what I found:

Russian Tea Traditions: The Russian interest in tea began as early as 1618 when the Chinese embassy in Moscow presented several chests of tea to Czar Alexis. The samovar, adopted from the Tibetan ‘hot pot’, is a combination bubbling hot water and teapot.

Placed in the centre of the Russian home, it could (run) all day and serve up to forty cups of tea at a time. Again showing the Asian influence in the Russian Culture, guests sipped their tea from glasses in silver holders very similar to Turkish coffee cups. The Russians have always favoured strong tea highly sweetened with sugar, honey, or jam.

Source: iPhone app Tea Timer

Compared to other European countries, Russia was a late adaptor to tea. The Russians were even resistant to it initially. Two Russian Marco Polos came back from China in the late sixteenth century talking of the tea plant, but had no samples. As mentioned above, the year that we know tea first made it’s way to Imperial Russia is 1618. It was brought to the czar, and not very well received. The Russians just weren’t that impressed.

Not until near the end of that century (1689), was Russia intrigued enough by tea to bother importing any of it. It took a full year at the time for the camel caravan to make its way from China to Russia by way of Manchuria and Mongolia, and the Chinese accepted furs in exchange for the huge chests of tea. Four chests carrying nearly six hundred pounds of tea could be carried by each camel, and by the turn of the century (1700) there were as many as six hundred camels per year. It was pricey. And took forever to get each shipment. When I think of UPS delivering my tea from Hamburg or London, I’m immensely grateful. Immensely.

It was only the Trans-Siberian Railway (1880) that relieved the caravan from their heavy burden. Until then, any tea one drank in Moscow came overland. The yearlong wait by way of camel was cut to seven weeks on the train. Not too shabby.

I always credit my sources here, and as smart as I like to think myself, this information wasn’t just swimming round my brain. I needed to do a bit of research, and the treasure trove about tea history that seems to never fail me is a book recommended to me by Indonique called The World of Caffeine by Bennet Alan Weinberg and Bonnie K. Bealer.

1 comment:

  1. My respect for the Russian people has now grown even more. I'd love to live in a house with a samovar.