About Russian Tea Culture
It is a well-known fact that Russians cannot live without tea. And today, just like in the past, Russian families will get together and sit down at a table not to have lunch or dinner but to have tea.
Russians will drink tea on any occasion and with no occasion whatsoever - at work, at home, - anywhere
For the first time, four pounds (65.5 kg) of tea were brought to Russia in 1638 by the Russian ambassador Starikov as a gift from the Mongol Khan for the Russian sovereign of Moscow Michael Fyodorovich. At first, the tsar and the boyars were not impressed with the bitter drink. When all the tea presented by the Mongolian Khan had been drunk and the Moscow court began to forget its taste, it was once again diplomats who reintroduced tea to Russia; the Russian ambassador Sapfary brought some tea from China. This time tea was already a known quantity in Moscow and in 1679 under a contract the Chinese were to supply Russia with dried tea. After that, caravans carrying tea began regular journeys from the Great Wall of China to the walls of the Moscow Kremlin.
However, the new beverage took quite some time to grow on Russians, who at first viewed it with suspicion as they did everything that originated abroad. Plus Chinese tea was too expensive while Russian herbal teas, such as cranberry, currant, were always easy to get.
Only by the early 18th-century tea had been fully accepted in Russian households and become a national drink. And for the past 300 years tea has been drunk at every family celebration and every informal get-together of old friends.
Traditionally, tea has been brewed in Russia using a samovar. This is an urn-shaped container usually made of copper, nickel or brass (expensive silver or gold versions are also available but rare).
In the past, samovars had a hollow pipe running vertically down the middle, where charcoal or wood chips were placed to heat up the water.
Today, many samovars have been fitted with an electric heating element, although they retain the traditional look.
A small teapot called zavarnik is placed on top of the samovar and used to brew a very strong tea, called zavarka, while the body of the samovar contains only water. Zavarka - is the dark, concentrated brew. A considerable quantity of tea leaves is placed in this small pot along with boiling water. The minimum brewing time is 5 minutes with zavarka being used throughout the day and even the following morning for breakfast. When it’s time to serve, guests can place a very small amount of tea from zavarnik, followed by hot water from inside the samovar, into a cup or a thick drinking glass placed inside a metallic glass-holder.
The samovar has served as Russia's teapot since the mid-1700s. By 1800, the samovar had become a cherished focal point of the Russian household and was the centrepiece of any social gathering. Samovars did and do vary in size. Some are very small, holding only three litres of water, while larger, 30-litre samovars do exist. Most Russian samovars have been manufactured in Tula, a metalworking centre south of Moscow. The largest teapot of record was made in Tula, in 1922, and held 250 litres!
Tea was taken with all meals and pretty much any other time of the day. Samovars were present in homes, trains, offices and restaurants. You would even see street vendors, with samovars, selling hot cups of tea.
Today, more than 80 per cent of Russians drink tea every day. Despite the early connection to Asia, Russian tea has developed into its own culture, complete with unique flavours, preparation methods, and traditions.
Tea in Russia is usually served with lemon or milk and a small cup containing sugar cubes, condensed sweet milk, honey, some cookies, candies, chocolate or other sweets. When small side dishes are served, they usually consist of bread and a mix of sweet and salty snacks, such as butter, jam, cold cuts and sliced sausages, cheese and pies or pastries.
Tea is usually served to guests as a welcome gesture.
Most of all, remember that tea, in Russia, is not just for tea time. in Russian culture tea symbolizes the warmth, comfort and hospitality and it is offered at every meal and anytime during the day, especially when family and friends are gathered together. Children learn many of their values and beliefs by listening to long conversations that adults have during tea. Tea is a therapeutic space, where friend and family talk over their problems and find moral support. And it is even an important milieu for the economic, political and cultural development of the entire country, as many business relationships, deals, and various collaborative projects are conceived, refined and agreed upon during tea.
So, as far as cultural institutions go, it is tea, not vodka, that defines the Russian culture.
If you want to have tea the Russian way, you need at least 30 minutes to spare. The main element of the Russian tea party (apart from tea of course) is socializing! Lots of tea treats and a good company these are the main ingredients of a Russian style tea party.
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