A History of Tea Drinking in Russia, Part 2

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Traditional Russian tea caravans began to die out in the 1880’s, after work on the Trans-Siberian Railway had begun and the first leg was complete. The Trans-Siberian Railway was a great asset to the ongoing tea trade between Russia and China, in which merchants would have to suffer through long treks that could take up to a year and a half. This reduced the overall importation time to under a fortnight in length, making it the prime method of transport.

Russian tea caravans were made completely defunct by the railway by 1925, and during Chinese tea’s decline in the 1900’s, alternate sources were sought out, including those from London and Odessa.

Much like in the British Isles, Russia gained a taste for drinking its tea with milk and sugar. A trend in the 1900’s was to hold a cube of sugar between one’s teeth and to drink the tea through it. Lemon is also commonly served with tea.

Despite centuries of traditionally using only black tea, recent statistics in Russia are showing an increase in the consumption of green tea, whilst black tea consumption remains stable.

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A History of Tea Drinking in Russia, Part 1

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With the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games under way, there is much to be said about Russia. Many don’t realise, however, that Russia has a long history of drinking tea – even longer than Britain, believe it or not – and the country itself still greatly appreciates a good cup of tea to this very day.

A good 100 years before Britain got its first taste of steeped heaven, Russia was importing tea from China. The rest of Europe would have to wait as Russia developed a bustling and thriving culture of serving tea.

During the 19th century, tea had become so strongly associated with the people of Russia that despite the fact tea was produced in China, certain types of black tea were known as “Russian” teas anyway. Russian Caravan is a traditional black tea and is known for its smoky character. It received its name due to its method of importation; generally via caravans led by camels. Black tea is still the most popular tea in Russia, however many residents are now drinking green tea as well.

Perhaps the biggest reason for Russia’s rich culture in tea is its climate; cold days high up in the Northern Hemisphere chill to the bone, but tea is one of the best and tastiest ways to warm up from the inside. Tea has had a profound affect on the Russian way of life since it was introduced in 1638; the Chinese Emperor from West Mongolia first presented the Russian Czar with tea as a gift, however it was refused. The Czar saw no apparent use for “a load of dead leaves”, however eventually accepted upon the Emperor’s insistence. And thus Russia’s tea culture began.

Getting to Russia from China, however, was no simple matter. It was a difficult slog from start to finish, and the harsh conditions importers faced meant that many turned down the offer despite demand. Russian aristocrats were therefore the first to serve the drink and make it acceptable within Russian culture, as its limited supply resulted in skyrocketing prices that few could afford.

When Russia marked sovereignty over Siberia in 1689, however, a tea trade route was created which made it easier for traders. Catherine the Great was the real pioneer in tea importation, however; by the time she had died in 1796, she had ordered the importation of so much tea that class and expense was no longer an issue. Even low-class workers could afford and enjoy the serenity that came with a good cup of loose-leaf tea.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this post on tea in Russia! Throughout the Olympic Games we will be creating a number of other Russia-themed posts, including more Russian tea history and all about the samovar.

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