Reviving this topic, as the falling Autumn temperatures are far more conducive to drinking tea. While I do have some more tea reviews in the queue, I also wanted to take some time to explore the practices of drinking tea. Many cultures have created specific methods for drinking tea, from elaborate ceremonies to decorative tea kettles.
I know I'm a big nerd - I find all of this fascinating.
Today I wanted to highlight a more recent discovery that I made. Most people, when they think of a tea practice, would think of Japan's ritual tea ceremony. But there are many cultures that have their own set way of brewing and consuming tea. I have truly enjoyed some of the surprising facts I've learned about Russian tea culture. Rather than the elaborate ceremony of other cultures, Russians lack a set "ceremony" to appreciate the tea - they just brew it and drink it.
The Merchant's Wife. Boris Kustodiev, 1918
A Tea Party in Mytishchi. Vasily Perov, 1862
In Russia, tea began as an afternoon drink, which seems to be a common theme in many cultures. Another commonality is the practice of offering tea to guests, and serving light snacks alongside the drink. Many business deals were conducted over tea, as well as serious conversations about art or philosophy - often at a preferred tea house. These conversations over tea built the backbone of Russian culture and have served as a setting for many a novel.
Black tea is the traditional beverage, and is still the most popular today. Russians prefer a black tea with a smoky quality, with perhaps a hint of Lapsang Souchong. Allegedly, this is because tea was imported over long caravans from China, and the smoke from the campfires infused the tea with a smoky flavor. If you are looking to replicate this flavor at home, look for teas advertised as "Russian Caravan" to best capture the smokiness.
Tea is brewed in a two-step process: first, a strong concentrate is brewed in a small pot called a samovar, which may then be added to additional hot water in each person's cup. This allows each drinker to adjust the strength of the tea to their taste. Multiple flavors of tea, such as Keemum or mint, may be brewed separately and then combined to form the concentrate. The concentrate is called zavarka. Typically, tea is drunk from a glass cup held in a special metal holder. This is somewhat similar to the Turkish coffee cup.
Common additions to tea are sugar, lemon, honey, or jam. The jam is how I stumbled across this in the first place. I don't remember how I went down the Google rabbit hole, but somehow, I found out that Russians add jam to their tea. I was fascinated - and had to try it. I brewed a strong cup of regular old Lipton's and poured it over a spoon of strawberry jam. I was hooked! It's even better with a Keemum or Lapsang Souchong to hold up against the sweetness of the jam.
Allegedly, Russians in the nineteenth century drank tea while holding a sugar cube between their teeth, but I am going to take a pass on attempting that. Somehow, I imagine I would end up choking to death - or rotting my teeth.