Tea is a huge part of Russian culture. It first appeared several centuries ago in Imperial Russia. There was a unique culture of drinking different teas - Chinese, Japanese or British. Even though trade was carried out at the Irbit and Nizhny Novgorod fairs, Moscow was a central tea city. Tea became an integral part of everyday life and is close to the hearts of many Russians. Russian tea-drinking culture has changed throughout history, but the love for this drink remains the same.
The Russian Empire is a Tea Empire
In the Russian Empire, tea was pretty popular, and Russian tea brands were well-known worldwide. At that time, there were representative offices of Russian tea companies in both London and New York. Russian tea brands were popular around the world. Indeed, they were just as popular as British tea brands. Russian tea was a bit more expensive as it was delivered by land, whereas British tea was delivered by ship, so it was cheaper, but it absorbed more moisture.
The fashion for tea came to Europe together with porcelain. Russian craftsmen quickly joined this new popular industry, resulting in the famous Imperial Porcelain Factory foundation known for its thin fine, almost transparent porcelain cups and classic designs. You can still find Imperial Porcelain shops in Moscow and other cities.
In the beginning, tea drinking was limited to the aristocracy and the upper-class in Russia, as it was with tea in Europe and Britain during its early days. Tea was imported fr om China, and available only in limited quantities, so it was expensive for common people. However, by the turn of the 18th century, tea drinking became part of traditional family meals across Russia.
By the mid-19th century, the Russian tea drinking culture was mentioned by Russian writers and poets. In the works of Pushkin, Dostoevsky or Tolstoy and Chekhov, you can easily find a mention or description of the Russian tea ceremony. The unique Russian tea culture formed around Chaipiti or Chainichat (tea-drinking).
The English tea that we know now was onece known as Chinese and Russian. By the late 19th century, Wissotzky Tea, for example, had become the largest tea firm company in the Russian Empire. By the early 20th century, Wissotzky was the largest tea producer in the world.
Russia lost its status as a tea country when the Soviets came to power. Factories were nationalized, and a lot of production stopped.
Russian Traditional Tea Ceremony
Nowadays, Russian tea brands are just beginning to revive, as well as traditional tea
ceremonies. Here are a few aspects of the Russian tea ceremony.
First of all, make sure you have plenty of time. The traditional Russian traditional tea ceremony demands quite a bit of time to fully experience it. Historically, people were having important conversations were held during the tea ceremony. Russian tea houses often hosted business deals and meetings wh ere important deals took place. Even tea ceremonies at home lasted around three hours as well.
Secondly, keep in mind that the samovar is the centre of the Russian traditional tea ceremonies. Samovars originally came fr om western Europe and later became a non-official symbol of Russia. Up until now, samovars have been produced at the Tula factory. Tula’s samovars are still known to be the best ones. The modern samovars teapots have electrical heaters to boil the water. As a combination of teapot and brewing device, it is a truly unique creation.
Thirdly, remember it’s not only about tea. It is highly likely that you will be offered something sweet.
So, if you are invited for tea to someone’s home, make sure to you bring something sweet with you. It can be anything such as — honey, pirogi, chocolate or cakes. The host will take this as a gesture of goodwill.
The Russian tea ceremony is much less formal than the Japanese or Chinese tea ceremony. It is a time for families and friends to gather over a cup of tea for Chainichat. The conversations are light and easy, and the setting is casual and spontaneous.
There is almost never a situation wh ere a cup of tea does not seem appropriate in Russia. In a sense, tea is more of an iconic and authentic representation of Russian culture than even vodka.