A lot of people don’t know that Russia has a rich tea culture. Russia drinks 3.051 pounds of tea per person annually making them the fourth biggest tea drinkers in the world but tea was not always a popular drink in Russia. It was first introduced in 1638 when Altyun-Khan, the ruler of Mongolia gifted tea to Tsar Michael I. At first he did not accept the gift because he assumed he had no use for dried leaves. Once he tried it, tea was integrated into Russian culture and they haven’t stopped drinking it since.
The tea that Russians drank was delivered from China in the form of loose leaf and tea bricks via Camel caravans along the Siberian route. This is why this type of tea is called Russian Caravan Tea or Camel Caravan Tea. Due to the length of time it took to travel that distance the price was extremely high which meant that tea was reserved only for royalty. However, after the Trans-Siberian railroad was finished in 1880 the price of tea declined and Russia began importing tea from other places.
Box used to transport the tea from China, and a Tea Caravan. Pictures: Kungur City Museum
Russian caravan tea has a smoky flavor. It is usually a blend of lapsang shouchong and oolong with black tea but companies tend to have their own take on how they blend it. There is a story about why this tea has a smoky flavor and it was due to the tea absorbing the smoke from the campfires during the journey.
Traditionally Russian tea was brewed in a samovar but today you will find a porcelain tea pot at Russian tea parties.Samovars work very similarly to the double tea pot I wrote about in the previous tea focus on Turkish tea but they tend to be more intricately designed.
Traditionally tea was drunk in the afternoon but nowerdays it is drank all day. It is served with lemon and sugar and usually accompanied by Sushki. These looks like a mini bagel but they are slightly sweet round cookies and are served on a string which is draped around the samovar.