So many of you are curious about Russian tea habits. Here are some Russian tea traditions. Please keep in mind that Russia is a large country with many regional customs, so some traditions and methods will differ. As always, none of the links are affiliate links. We do not earn money if you buy a samovar at Amazon, heh.
Russians discovered tea in 16th century, when Ivan the Terrible sent two Cossack atamans (war chiefs), Petrov and Yalychov to Siberia with a decree to “unknown peoples” who might be living there. They made it to the sea, passed through Mongolia, and reached China. Whether or not tea was a part of this expedition remains hotly debated by Russian historians, but it is clear that there was an eventual establishment of diplomatic ties between Russia and China, and in 1618 Czar Mihail Fiodorovich Romanov was presented with several crates of tea by the Chinese delegation. Russian word for tea, “Чай,” phonetically spells out chai.
At first tea was viewed as a medicinal drink, but it quickly gained popularity, and by the end of 17th century everyone was drinking it. By 19th century, tea was a big deal. Strict laws were enacted to prevent sale of contraband tea and banning production of koporskii tea, made from fireweed. Koporskii tea tasted kind of nasty, but if you messed with it enough, in a dry state it looked like real tea, so unscrupulous merchants would cut real tea with it.
In the 20th century, a lot of tea in USSR was either home grown or imported from India and Ceylon. Eventually, due to economic difficulties, those imports dried up and so did the consumption of tea. Now it has picked back up and Russian tea market is the fourth largest by volume, right behind China, India, and Turkey. Most of the tea in Russia comes from India, then Sri-Lanka, then China and Indonesia. They keep trying to grow tea in the Krasnodar region, but it accounts for less than 1% of all tea consumed.
Russians drink 10 times as much black tea as green tea, and the green tea still throws a lot of them for a loop. During her first career, my mother was an engineer working for a company designing an anti-missile system. She and her coworkers ended up viewing the tests of the prototype, and the military put them into some old barracks. It was like camping out in a cabin.
One day they all went to the view the tests, and the weather was bad and cold, so they send one guy back ahead of time to make hot tea. He found the tea, but accidentally grabbed the green tea someone had instead of the black tea. So he brews a kettle of this tea and it’s the wrong color. Being an engineer, he concludes that this tea is weak and solves this problem by adding more tea and more tea, until he gets the nice brown color he wants.
The team returns, takes some nice swallows of said tea and then they all have heart palpitations and a spirited debate regarding whether or not they need to go to the hospital.
Traditional tea preparation involves zavarka, very strong concentrated tea brewed in a tea pot, which is then diluted by boiled water to the desired strength. Children get weaker tea, adults get stronger tea.
This is where the traditional Russian samovars came into play. They are basically low-tech electric kettles designed to boil water and then keep it warm for hours. First samovars used coal, now they are electric. You can see the one below comes with a matching removable tea pot.
Samovars are pretty, but not practical, because they are a pain to clean.
In the pre USSR times, tea was drank in pretty cups, which were always served with a deep saucer dish. Tea was frequently poured into the saucer and drank from it because it cooled faster.
The tea I remember was served in cups at our house. On a train and in a school cafeteria, tea came in glasses, often with a podstakannik, a metal holder.
The glass is removable and easily washed.
Tea is usually sweetened with sugar, more rarely with honey. Honey was more expensive and less readily available. Sometimes lemon was served, but lemons were also a bit of a luxury. Some people mix in preserves. Very few people drink it unsweetened. Milk is usually a no and will get you funny looks.
Indian spiced chai was not a thing in Russia when I left. Most of the times I can’t drink it. It doesn’t taste right to my palate. Neither is adding bergamot, and I can only tolerate it in small amounts. It works in London Fog from Harney’s but not in Earl Grey for me.
Tea is a ritual. In my house, tea was typically consumed at breakfast, with some fruit and sandwiches with bologna or whatever sausage we had handy. You drank your tea and took off for school.
Tea must be consumed hot enough to nip at the roof of your mouth.
This is legend and folklore, so please don’t take it as a medical advice.
Hot tea with a couple of teaspoons of raspberry preserves in it will quickly break a fever. Right now I am not feeling that hot – I haven’t felt that hot all week – and I drank some this morning.
Tea with shipovnik, rosehips, is considered to boost immune system and improve kidney function but is counter indicated for anyone with stomach acid related issues. We would drive out once a year and gather our own rosehips from the edges of the farm fields where it grew like a weed.
In case of conjunctivitis, Russian mothers brew very strong tea, let it cool, and wash the eyes out by dipping a cotton pad into the tea and gently pressing it to the eye. I can confirm that conjunctivis does seem to go away at record rate with this treatment.
To be honest, most health issues in Russia are treated with tea. Headache – tea. Fever – tea. Broken arm – tea. Tea is the way.
Thank you! I was curious about the jam, hope it worked for you. Smokey Russian Caravan is one of my favourites but I’m guessing it’s more British than really Russian.
Paul Pisarek says
Lilly, Yes Russian Caravan is a delicious strong tea. But being a Disney fanatic, the first time I smelled the bag of tea leaves all I could think of was the “Rome Burning” scene from Spaceship earth. I do not know what they use for the amusement ride but the two are now irretrievably linked in my head.
Very interesting and fun. I am now wondering if I should attempt to add lemon curd to my Scottish Breakfast Tea.
I would suggest marmalade instead. 🙂
But all I want is a bit of butter for my… well, no, I suppose it doesn’t work for tea.
Oh dear, my brain finished your sentence with, “butter for my Rum!” Then my brain takes a detour with, “Do we have any rum??? That sounds yummy as it’s freaking freezing in Central Illinois today!”
And now I have Jack Sparrow looking at me and saying, “Hide the Rum!”
It would if you were Tibetan.
Or a lot of the Turkic peoples. (I like buttered tea. I also like buttered salted tea – sometimes. Especially if I’ve been out working in cold dry weather )
Martha L says
How do you make buttered tea?
Make hot tea. Add butter. Maybe some sugar or salt (easy on the salt). I like a nice, mm, kind of malty black tea for it?
Buttered tea, with sugar and rum is great for when I’m feeling bad. Sometimes I mix the tea with orange juice and add the butter and rum… 🙂
I remember the first time I had Tibetan butter tea I though it was the grossest thing ever but it was in Outer Tibet and with rancid yak butter so…. Now I love it. With fresh butter (although not yak butter – kinda hard to get outside of the Himalaya.) Traditionally the Tibetans added ground Barley called tsampa to the butter tea and made little balls with it, which they then ate. Great energy dense food if your spending your days working outside in the high mountains where very little grows.
Moderator R says
Curds contain egg, so…probably very interesting results there.
It’s not usually the type of preserve found in Eastern Europe ????
Patricia Schlorke says
I would be concerned if the curd broke in the tea. The though of a scrambled egg taste in the tea would not be very nice.
On the mornings when it was bitterly cold when I was growing up, my mom would make for my Dad (and sometimes us kids as well) a special breakfast: literal translation is egg-soup, but it’s sweet. Per serving she’d beat an egg & sugar together in a large bowl with chopsticks then pour either just boiled water from the kettle over top or freshly made tea that she would make sure was also super hot. It was always very tasty, not too overly sweet, but also a little bit weird if you have texture issues cuz the eggs would be kind of cooked but also weirdly a little tiny bit slimy if you didn’t let it just sit for a couple minutes for the eggs to set the strands ^_^;
Very interesting history of tea in Russia. Thanks Ilona.
So basically, like for the British, tea will solve all your problems????!
I’m from Central Louisiana, which is of course iced, sweet tea country. BUT we drank tea our entire childhood. Cold in summer, hot in winter. If you had a cough my mom would make hot tea, load it up with honey and lemon, and give that to you like cough syrup. My dad would add a shot of whisky to it, lol. Also, we would drop peppermints in our hot tea after working outside in cold wet weather to keep from getting sick. Tea brewed with catalba and willow bark would help a toothache. Now that I am a mother my family requests “voodoo” tea when they are sick, which is homemade spearmint tea with honey, but it settles tummies and calms coughs. I don’t care for chai either, but drink hot, strong black tea every morning.
I hate tea as I think it tastes like dirty dishwater (I know the taste because older brother and it is a long story full of practical jokes). With raspberry jam added, that sounds like a gamechanger.
Have you not seen Ted Lasso? There’s a scene in which Jason Sudeikis’s character Ted Lasso takes tea from a British character (the soccer team owner Rebecca) and says “I always figured that tea would just taste like hot brown water. And you know what? I was right, tastes horrible.” It’s a running bit in which each time he drinks tea he makes a face lol.
I like tea but I’m not crazy about it either. My family drinks a lot of tea and to me most of it tastes the same.
Patricia Schlorke says
I give people heart palpitations when I am around a lot of people drinking coffee. They will ask me what I want to drink, and I say “unsweet tea”. You would think I was doing something bizarre by saying tea. I just cold brew my tea, but I will drink hot tea. I also get stares from people when I ask for unsweet tea. Then I tell people I am not originally from Texas, and they relax at that. 🙂
When I went to Atlanta for a friend’s wedding reception, I met her parents who are from India. Out of politeness I drank the chai tea her mom made and had simmering in a pot on the stove. It had milk, sugar, cardamom, and other spices. I took one swallow of the tea, and almost spit it out. I made myself drink the entire cup. Once I left the house, I couldn’t wait to get some water into my mouth. It still makes me laugh to this stay. 😀
Tea is good for burns. I tried it once when I burned one of my fingers and had some cold tea out. It cut the heat within a few minutes.
Thank you for the information about how tea came to Russia. I find it interesting to learn about other cultures.
I am a native Arkansan and and an”unsweet” tea drinker, too. My whole family has shudders if they accidentally grab my glass, lol. I drink my hot tea sweet though, and room temperature tea is just nasty ????
My tea is unsweetened, so my mother solves the issue of having tea for everyone when we’re down(Florida) for Christmas by making a squeeze bottle of simple syrup and leaving it next to the tea in the fridge. It’s always fun to see her face when she forgets to add it.
I hate sweet tea too. If someone has used the teaspoon to stir a cup with sugar in before mine, I can often tell and hate it.
However, being Indian I HAVE to have Indian tea everyday. But the proper brewed chai is too heavy for daily drinking. Instead I just add a dash of chai masala to my black tea (no sugar) – it’s warming and delicious and a game changer. Failing that, add a bit of fresh ginger, a couple of cardamom pods and a small piece of cinnamon in the tea pot.
We also grew up drinking chai out of saucers ????
My father likes to tell about his Russian granddad who drank his tea from the saucer. He held a piece of sugar between his teeth and drew the tea through the lump to sweeten it in his mouth. Dad’s grandparents came to the US in the mid 1890s, but Dad’s memories of them were from the 1930s.
That triggers memories from a book I once read where the lead character is trying tea for the first time (I want to say a Tamora Pierce… Circle of Magic maybe?) and the other characters talk about straining it through a sugar lump or holding a mouthful of preserves and drinking it that way – I always thought that seemed more unlikely than mixing it into the cup.
Glad someone, somewhere did actually do it…I might have to try it now.
Thanks for the History lesson Ilona – really interesting!
That’s how Iranians drink their tea too, with a lump of sugar in their mouth. They actually use a sort of crystalized sugar, which they break in pieces, and put in their mouth, while they sip their tea. If they don’t have the crystal sugar, they use common lumps. Or candy. They also use samovars, and have a very similar tea culture than Russians, except their tea is spiced with cardamom. VERY tasty
My husband is Persian, so we drink lots of cardamom tea. And we have buy the crystallized sugar (looks like rock candy) to sweeten tea.
Aman Sidhu says
Tea is also the Indian way. My mom has cha (Punjabi for tea) four times a day. I come to visit and the first thing I get asked is do you want cha? I love the ritual of it, the comfort of being home.
Most of our home remedies involve turmeric (haldi in Pubjabi). Have a cut, heat mustard oil with turmeric and apply. Stomach ache? Heat up milk with turmeric. Now you can find turmeric lattes all over the western world without people understanding where it comes from.
I’ve always loved being raised in multi-cultural environment you learn so much.
This was awesome!
I had read about “samovars” before but didn’t know what they looked like, so thank you!
I also resemble the Russian Merchant Wife. Husband must have been very successful, lol.
I did a double take at first, saw the happy cat and thought it was some cool fan art. I bet someone could have fun with photoshop and add a real life face, or a familiar cat 🙂
I have used camomile tea for sore eyes both in my self (tested on me first… doctors are free in Norway, vets are not. And well it would have been smarter to test on only one eye ???? luckily it works like a charm) and my dogs.
My father was a hobby botanist and was really into medicinal plants. Still miss going on walks with him, he would stop and get excited over every little weed and had a story for all of them.
Harness teas are fans of mine! London fog and hot cinnamon spice!
Fun information. A treat growing up for us was “Russian Tea” which was basically iced tea mix, Tang (a sweet orange-flavored drink mix), lemonade & pumpkin pie spices mixed together with hot water. Its still a comfort go-to on a cold wintery day. I have no idea why is was called “Russian”…it’s a completely American drink
Ah, Tang. There are certain drinks that I always associate with going to my grandparents as a kid. Tang and Fresca were the drinks we had at Nana’s but that I don’t really remember having at home.
I actually made a batch of Russian tea mix over the holidays and have been enjoying cups of it during our cold snap here in South Carolina.
My grandfather used to pour his coffee into a saucer and drink it from the saucer. Thank you for reminding me of spending time with Papa!
I remember Russian Tea, I loved it growing up. Very comforting on cold winter days.
I have to add that in Siberia, where I grew up, for breaking fever one had to drink hot tea with a tablespoon or raspberry preserves and tablespoon of cognac. No age limit (I was treated with this concoction even when I was in elementary school).
I confirm the conjunctivitis treatment, still works like a charm.
Strong and cooled tea was used to wash one’s mouth after loosing a milk tooth. Helped to stop the bleeding.
You made me realise that I am still very much in Russia where it concerns tea. Headache – tea. Tummy ache – tea. Relaxing evening with a good book – tea. Too nervous to concentrate – tea. Tea is the way. 🙂
My grandfather used to want to drink his tea through a lump of sugar. Sadly, commercially made sugar cubes here are apparently not as hard as the lump sugar he had used in Russia so it would dissolve almost immediately. Do you know about this?
Maybe try the rock sugar you can buy at Asian markets. They’re irregular shaped yellowish chunks, quite hard so they dissolve slower.
When I moved to Vienna, I was stunned to find almost all tea was herbal tea*. If I want black tea from the grocery store, I have to either buy imported Twinings in fancy boxes or…
*not the time to argue tisane vs tea, I suppose
**At restaurants, you also have to order Russisch Tee to get black tea.
Thank you for the tisane versus tea note. I used to try telling others of the distinction and eventually gave up. People also got confused when I said the tea needed to steep.
Tisane vs tea…very controversial. I want tea. If you like herbal, please drink it. Just offer me real tea, or give me boiled water because I usually carry my own tea bags. ; )
How strong is Russian tea? British builder’s brew (as the classic British cuppa is known) is so dark that you have to smell it to work out if it is tea or coffee. British tea only tastes right if made with boiling water, if it has cooled before it hits the tea then hmmm…. Tea in the US (I’ve only visited for conferences so I know my experiences are biased) seems to only be made with rather cooler water and is also really weak. This holds true even for Starbucks, not sure why because the teabags used in Starbucks in the UK appear to be the same as the US but the taste difference is huge!
My mother reported that her grandmother used to drink tea through marmalade and had something that sounds samovar-like on her stove constantly. Description doesn’t exactly match, but I think she said that it was just constantly refilled so maybe I shouldn’t ask if it was ever washed! She came to London from the Western area of Russia (or somewhere near there, geography and names somewhat vague in the family history).
It’s a personal preference. I usually put about a heaping teaspoon and enough water to fill two mugs, then brew for about 5 minutes, so its a rich brown color but more like chestnut and less like chocolate. If I forget to removed diffuser, the tea turn bitter. But I also mostly drink it unsweetened, unless I am sick. My rule is, you should taste the tea but not grimace when you sip it. 🙂
Moderator R says
As someone who has had both Russian and and British tea, I can attest Russian tea is stronger. Milk is rarely/never added to tea in Eastern Europe and the infusions are left for longer. “Milk in first” people also need to be aware of that boiling water rule ????. I’ve been at constant war with them for nigh on 15 years hehe.
The Brits also remove their teaspoon out of the cup before drinking. I would rather poke an eye out ????
Elaine Morton says
Lucy Worsley had a series on the evolution of rooms. Milk first was for those whose teacups were not high quality porcelain. Now of course it’s family tradition.
As a Canadian with UK family heritage on both sides (Irish, Scottish and English) I grew up drinking black tea, but as a child my tea was always sweetened and milk added last to cool the tea down – to this day I cannot drink black tea without milk and sweetener.
Green tea I can drink unsweetened and without milk – I have to wait because I cannot do “hot” stuff. I am a lukewarm kind of person when it comes to food and beverages.
My favourite green tea is Japanese Genmaicha (green tea with toasted puffed rice to cut the bitterness). I love making tea that is a mix of both Genmaicha and black tea (with milk and sweetener). I started mixing them when my father had said that he didn’t like green tea, but heard that it was good for digestion so I figured why not combine? I love it.
Thank you Ilona for sharing, this was super interesting!
Diane Wilson says
Thank you! I’ve always been fascinated by Russian culture, so this was quite a treat!
Pat Ray says
Somewhere I have a memory that rosehips are high in Vitamin C so…
Katya Gordon says
I’ve always been a hot tea drinker and only drink sweet iced tea when I’m in MS for a week most years in March. I’m the oddball that doesn’t care if the tea is almost boiling hot or if I had to run an errand before I finished the cup, when I get back in finishing that cup before I make new. I love the metal glass holder (so not attempting that spelling) I think the first time I saw one was in Fiddler on the Roof and always thought they would be neat to have. But since my current tea cup holds 24 ozs I doubt I could find a big enough one. 🙂
More fun historical facts on tea: I read in an article several years ago that we all know two words in every language in the world. Those two words are tea and chai. Both mean tea. What you call it depends on where you live. If tea originally came overland from Asia, you call it chai. If tea originally came by sea (thank the Portuguese), you call it tea. While spellling and pronounciation will vary depending on what country you are in, saying these two words anywhere in the world will always get you the proper drink. Of course, people from the Southern US should rmemeber that tea is always hot, everywhere but in the South.
My family is from Louisiana – my mom had never seen tea drunk hot (tea was always iced and sweet) until we moved to North Carolina when I was a child.
I tried to order sweet ice tea in New Orleans many years ago and the waiter looked at me like I flew in on the crazy plane. They did not serve sweet iced tea. I was bewildered.
Megan W. says
I ordered hot tea while traveling through N. Carolina and the server said that they didn’t have any. They had iced tea though. I believe iced tea is made from tea bags, too, right? I asked him to nuke some of the iced tea and it was tolerable.
Didn’t have any hot tea, rofl!
Magdalen Braden says
My husband is English, so tea is “the sweet elixir of life” around here. But my first husband, also English, drank coffee at breakfast (brewed super strong and diluted in equal amounts with nearly boiling milk) growing up so only when he visits us (he’s a good friend and introduced me to my current husband) do we need to have coffee in the house.
Thank you so much for this! I adore tea and am a weird American in that I do not drink coffee. I love hearing about tea history and how it is enjoyed around the world.
On another note, thank you do much for allowing the calendar to be published! It looks amazing on my author sway wall! I plan to keep it up year after year because it is really about the pictures:)
Patricia Schlorke says
You are not alone in not drinking coffee. I don’t either. My nose wrinkles when I smell coffee brewing.
We are the tea branch of the BDH. ????
Another member of the tea-only branch of the BDH. years ago, I tried drinking coffee (black with lots of sugar) but it destroyed my stomach. I handle the acids in tea so much better, I also use milk or cream. Tea is the best.
I can deal with cold brew, a bit – less bitter, also easier on the stomach – but it’s been a few years since I last had coffee, I think? Matcha is my staple, but I keep several types of loose leaf tea on hand.
I don’t care for coffee or mint. My life would be simpler if I did, but I just cannot get my taste buds to cooperate.
However, I do like the scent of either one, just not combined…
I have hot tea with sugar and milk for breakfast, but unsweetened iced tea after that. As a native Texan, I have learned to specify “unsweet” when I get tea at an eatery. (To be honest, I also like sweet tea, but do not need the empty calories.)
I am currently indulging in insomnia.
My cats are at least happy about it – they are taking turns sitting on my right hand and arm.
I remember rotating through orthopedics and my attending said, “I don’t remember if it’s feed a cold and starve a fever, or feed a fever and starve a cold, but you always feed a fracture.”
Orthopods always a trip – really smart folks who played at being the dumb jocks of medicine. I have a rare wrist physical exam finding – after I rotated through ortho and a couple orthopods knew of it, I was accosted if they saw me on rounds to show their latest training group – they can be a bit like overgrown kids.
Patricia Schlorke says
When I did an internship in an operating room, I saw an orthopedic surgery being done. I commented that the tools they used I could find in my dad’s toolbox. I got a huge smile from the surgeon from behind the mask.
Tammy Frietsch says
Dawn Emerson says
Tea is the Way.
This morning it is a pot of Harney black with a little brown sugar
Tea in India is also chai, as it is in Kyrgyz. It is absolutely hilarious to hear chai-tea out in USA. And asking for black tea in India – everyone assumes you are diabetic, but will still bring it out with sugar or jaggery. I personally prefer our ’tissanes’ for various ailments than the black tea though, growing up with spices bland teas give me mental palpitations. I just make weak forms of different tissanes on the basis of my mood, the weather or the state of my stomach.
Megha Kumar says
I love this. As an Indian, I grew up drinking Lots of hot sweet black tea (chai with just a dash of milk). For my mother and I, anything other than steaming hot chai is unacceptable (we are both known for reheating our beverages at least 3 times during its consumption).
As a South Indian, my love for hot sweet coffee is just as strong. Both chai and coffee is had with breakfast, in the evenings with savoury snacks (samosas or pakoras) or biscuits, over lots of gupshup (gossip). I used to even have chai (in a veritable soup bowl cup) right before bed, to wind down of course.
The only compromise I’ve made over the years is to switch from lots of sugar to lots of stevia.
Loved this! I’m from the South originally, and they used tea in a medicinal way there too. I am highly allergic to mosquito bites, and the doctor would have my grandmother soak a wash cloth in tea and keep it on my bites to reduce swelling. Of course, we used tea with honey for sore throats too.
I had an elderly neighbor who would put her used tea bags on the soil of my rose bushes. She claimed that it was good for them – They were the most successful roses I ever grew.
JoAnn Arnold says
I found a Tea Master double chamber teapot at goodwill. The patent says one side is for tea and the other for hot water. I’ve brewed 2 different teas in it. Saves cleaning 2 pots.
Deborah S. says
I am unusual in my tea drinking. I grew up drinking black tea, Lipton’s and Constant Comment, but served in East Asia for several years and drank green tea a lot there. Now I drink black teas, but brew them weak so they look and taste more look green teas. ????
Our pediatrician recommended pressing a warm, recently used tea bag against an eye to relive conjunctivitis. It really helps our youngest who gets it regularly.
A couple of years ago, my doctor prescribed a cold wet tea bag for shingles through my eye. He said it was great for all sorts of eye infections. If nothing else it relieved the pain.
Monica M says
I have been waiting and waiting for Gertrude Hunt to install a samovar!! Great big hairy NO to making tea with not-hot-enough water from a coffee maker!!
Monica M says
….and: my husband is Iranian, a culture with an ancient tradition of tea (also called Chai there, but meaning pure black, not with the spices or milk) and no matter how excellent and loose-leaf the tea may be, he will not drink it unless in a glass cup. Says it ruins the taste in any other type of vessel.
This was so interesting! I’m actually having tea now, but I ran out of honey, so I used a little sugar. Now I’m wondering if I should throw in some grape Polaner jelly in there (I don’t like raspberries, so I might as well try grape)….
We bought an old home some years ago and found several very old boxes in the attic that the previous home owner left behind. Most of the items were just very old ratty linens, but one wooden box contained a weird looking drink set we assumed was for coffee…It turned out to be a sterling and 18K gold Russian tea set, including a huge pot. We contacted the real estate company and the old owners said the boxes were there when they moved in in 1967. Apparently the owners of the tea set had passed away in the early 1970’s, so they decided the set was ours to keep. We had it appraised and it came in around 30K so we decided to send it on loan to museum that had a “traveling” Russian exhibit. My husband is a Silversmith and was in awe of the craftsmanship for the time it was made. He reminded me that this is the country that gave the world Faberge, one of the worlds greatest Goldsmith!
That is so cool! The tea set that slept for decades in an attic, and then went on a museum tour! Magic! And all the people who got to see the beautiful craftsmanship and artistry on that tour because you loaned it to the museum instead of just putting it back in the attic!!
Anne-Marie McRoberts says
I have just been to the Faberge exhibition at the V&A, wonderful and they had the teeniest little tea/coffee set in solid gold that I have ever seen. Just a couple of sizes up from a doll’s tea set size!
Moderator R says
I was there in December! Really loved it and realised I prefer the other objects to the eggs!
That illustrate is absolutely fabulous. I want to be there.
I enjoy what’s sold as chai here in the US, but I don’t consider it the same as normal tea. If I drink black tea, it’s P.G. Tips, brewed for at least two minutes, and sweetened with honey. That’s also what I use to make an Arnold Palmer, by adding lemon juice and water. Green tea is what I drink for GI issues. The rest of the time, it’s one tisane or another. There’s some ginger preserves in the cabinet that might get stirred into tea one of these days now. They work well in various Asian-style sauces too.
Illustration. Auto corrupt must have snuck that one in on me.
Thank you for the small history lesson.
I have a love hate relationship with tea. I grew up in the Caribbean and my mother insisted on tea for breakfast and with our night time meal of sandwiches, meats, fish and other lite foods. (Our heavy meal was at lunch). Its hot there and I felt like I was melting inside, but I couldnt say no.
Tea is also treated as if its a medicine there as well. Headache drink tea, nauseous drink tea, drunk drink tea.
I will say though my prinipal in High School, brewed orange peels, cinnamon and cloves whenever any of the girls were cramping from our monthlies. Im not even sure its considered tea but I swear it works. I give it to my daughter every morning on her week and she feels pretty good during the day.
So now I only drink tea when I feel sick ????
Tasha A says
OMG the tea/ tea bag on the eyes!! – my British mothers cure all for all eye problems! Got a stye, put a tea bag on it, got a dry eyes, tea bag, got allergies, here’s your tea bag. You get the idea. Honestly it actually worked a few times! haha!
Must make tea first, then use the used tea bag any brand would do but PG tips was preferred
This was fun to read. Thank you! Also, I’m now curious how blackberry or boysenberry preserves would taste in tea.
Tea was a staple in our Cantonese household too. My dad favored pu’er 普洱, a fermented black tea typically we buy the ones that has been pressed into disc shape and the longer it has been well stored, the more expensive and the richer the taste. The “oldest” pu’er I’ve had is 20 year-old. It deeply smooth, and doesn’t have any more of the bitterness, it’s somehow feels more liquid. I hated it as a child, so bitter. We would make a pot of the “condensed tea”, and pour a bit of it, add hot water to dilute it to serve.
It’s the tea we drink when we want to cut the grease in the meal.
So many memories, off to make some tea now.
I also grew up in a Chinese household. I never saw a teabag until I went away to college, my parents only drank loose leaf tea. As an adult, I drink tea every day, although it is mostly British teas and herbals. Everyone in my household drinks tea, so we have a tabletop hot water pot that keeps the water hot and we make tea all day long.
Enjoyed the information about tea in Russia! thank you so much for sharing.
Interestingly, Fireweed tea (fireweed = rosebay willow herb in British English) is now quite a thing in Russia again. Called ivan-chai. The Russian equivalent to Rooibos or Spiced Chai,I always think.
Thanks for a great article! I think that lady in the painting looks like she is having a lot of fun.
Jennifer Mosier says
We use tea bags soaked in hot water then slightly cooled for styes in the eye
That is very interesting, and it reminds me… Growing up, my friend and I drank gallons of “Instant Russian Tea” that her Mom would make every winter. She recently found the index card with the recipe and sent it along. I had to laugh – there is nothing Russian about it as far as I can tell, just all sugar. See attached. 🙂
Jeanine Lesperance says
When I was a kid, I had a teacher that drank this constantly. I loved it, but definitely not healthy
My grandmother and aunts used to make this and complain about each other’s mix????. Tang was invented for the Apollo space program along with a lot of other freeze dried foods. I wonder if the name has anything to do with the space race between the old USSR and the USA?
That’s quite a recipe! I think you should make a small batch and see what adult you thinks of it!
I’m worried my teeth would fall out, Hollie! 🙂
After oral surgery my dentist told me to use a cold wet tea bag if I had any bleeding around the sutures. As that worked, I have also used one as a compress on any spouting cuts.
Pu’er tea is fantastic. As is a good smoky Tiawan Lapsang.
In the summer my family often resorted to cold Japanese Genma Cha which is green tea combined with toasted rice .
This was wonderful! Thank you for sharing.
I laughed out loud at the green tea incident with your mother’s team.
It’s cold here in North Texas and I’m grabbing my tea, a blanket, and settling in to reread some Innkeeper!
Mary Beth says
I learned to make Mongolian butter tea and love it. (Hubby swears I have Mongol DNA somewhere.)
It is a definite acquired taste. When it’s super cold out, nothing else will do.
I’ve never heard of this! Off to Google it. ????
Is this like Tibetan yak butter tea? I could only drink it when I told myself it was soup, not tea.
Amber Husk says
i personally take my tea Hot with no sweetner, OR cold with sweetner
and room tempater is just wrong
thank you for your out look on tea :}
For Christmas this year I got an electric kettle. Husband and I are drinking tea line fiends! Best gift ever, so I bought one for work. I drink my tea (hot and iced) unsweetened. Unsweetened tea is common in west and north Texas, also coastal NC. When we lived in Augusta I swear tea was 3 parts sugar one part tea.
Donna A says
Just out of interest from the UK – is it true that electric kettles are not commonplace in the US?
I’m not being rude, it’s just because someone told me Americans don’t really use them and I’m not sure if it was a wind up (she also said you use a microwave for tea which I’m really not sure I believe).
As in English person everyone has electric kettles here, it is considered so essential as to not even be a question. Some nostalgic people might still have a whistling one but they’d likely have an electric one too.
From the US: as tea isn’t as commonplace here, not everyone has an electric tea kettle. I do (I drink tea). Other friends might have tea kettles they heat on the range (even with a whistle, I boiled those dry more than once). I’ve known a couple of people who didn’t even have that and boiled water in a pot if necessary. Heating water in a microwave for tea — while actually done by some poor, misguided people — is an abomination.
Donna A says
Thanks for the reply. I thought she was teasing me. I’ll have to apologise to her now!
My gosh though, when I think of all the things we use the kettle for, not just hot drinks but to boil water to put in the pan for cooking pasta, eggs, potatoes, pretty much everything, it’s just so much faster and easier. Noodles! Delicious quick noodles would be slooow! And sinus clearing! What if you have a killer head and need to make a bowl of menthol? You’d have to boil a pan from scratch whilst you have a headache!
I never realised I love my kettle but I love my kettle.
I love mine, too. My good one is in storage. Actually, I have two in storage: one in Oregon and one here in Texas — long story. So I have an inexpensive one right now because I currently rent a room in a house. A guy at a place I stayed for a while had an electric that was clear glass so you could watch the water boil. It was cool! And yes, hot water for instant noodles or broth, hot water for sinuses, the list is virtually endless. Much faster than boiling on the stove.
I have an electric kettle, which I love. It’s more common for tea drinkers. (My lab also has one, but both B and I are tea drinkers. I don’t think we have a coffee maker?)
But also, US electrical systems aren’t as strong, so our kettles are slower. (I still use mine for all the hot water things…)
I had never seen an electric kettle until my husband was on assignment in London and took the whole family along. (This was in 1983 and we enjoyed our “6” months – all 16 of them.)
When we came home, I had to find an electric kettle of my own to buy and it was not easy at the time. My sister liked mine so much, she bought one, too.
These days kettles are easier to find, but many people do not own one.
I’ve always had an electric kettle as did my parents. But then again my father is Dutch and I’ve lived in the UK. It’s necessary for both tea and pour over coffee. The kettle I have has settings to stop heating at different temperatures since you want hotter boiling water for coffee and black tea and a lower temp for green or white tea (and other varieties.) If the temp is too hot the more delicate tea varieties burn and the resulting brew is bitter.
Patricia Schlorke says
I will admit I do boil my water in the microwave if I need some hot tea. For me it’s faster than boiling water on the stove. My brother use to use a small hot pot to boil his water for Earl Grey tea. He would steep it so much it looked like coffee. Smelled like Froot Loops cereal.
Donna A says
It’s just amazing really how such small unconsidered things can be so different from country to country.
If you went to someone’s house here in the UK and they didn’t have an electric kettle it would be thought quite odd, even for an extremely elderly relative nowadays.
I’ve always had an electric kettle in my room when staying at hotels in France, Spain, Greece and Malta as well, but don’t know if this is just a hotel thing and completely unrelated to actual electric kettle usage within those countries.
Regarding microwave tea, I’ve warmed a cold cup up but it makes it taste icky so only if I really, truly can’t be bothered which is rare. The kettle boils in 90 seconds after all!
I am odd then, I don’t have an electric kettle, I gave up on them in the early nineties as they only lasted about a year then went poof! I got fed up of replacing them so often. The stove top kettle I bought then is still going strong and will hold three litres or just a cupful.
I just realized that we use our reservoir Keurig as a samovar. We use it for hot water on demand for green tea and the occasional hot chocolate packet. My husband goes thru a LOT of green tea.
I have three friends with an electric kettle (and one is Welsh), but that’s it. The rest who drink tea as opposed to coffee use a stove top kettle. I have one as well, but I only use it if I’m actually making a whole pot of tea. Otherwise I’m a philistine, I nuke a mug of water and then steep my bag or my infuser. Mostly I use tea if I’m feeling unwell or too lazy to make coffee. Or traveling, since tea bags travel beautifully and instant coffee is terrible.
Electric hot water pot, sitting on the countertop. Holds up to 4L of water (there are other sizes), at a temperature of your choosing, all day long. It looks a little like the Air Pots you see in restaurants and buffets for their tea/coffee station, except instead of just being a thermos, it boils the water and keeps it very hot. This is a very Asian thing. Tea all times of day, plus cup o noodles, a shortcut for making pasta and other foods requiring boiling water. My (white) husband is even more attached to it than I am and rushes out to buy a new one when it fails (they tend to last 4-6 years in my experience).
My mom is in Serbia and she has tea for every organ. I like only camomile with honey and lemon
Moderator R says
Hehehe- a tea for every organ ????, love this.
Thanks ???? totally true she picks and grows them. She even made a little notebook what tea is for what
Colleen C. says
Have you ever had the chance to go back and/or plan to?
This is a very complex issue.
What if I go and they refuse to release me? Even though I am a citizen of United States, what if I am suddenly found with narcotics on my person? If I am lucky, a bribe might fix it, but it might not. What if something I said online is problematic, and by entering the country I draw attention to myself or my father and my step-mother? What if there is something mysteriously wrong with my passport and they decide to detain me for a few weeks?
Why would I risk it?
That is scary, and sad all rolled up into nope, not chancing it.
Donna A says
It is good to be wary even now. Growing up my grandfather always said none of us can visit Lithuania, they would kill us if they saw our name and he refused to teach my mum, uncles and aunt the language. The USSR had a heavy hand and have cast a long shadow.
This is real but so sad. There are way too many people around the world who can’t safely go home again.
My Swedish grandmother had the same medical uses for tea. She too preferred black tea. Thanks for the happy memories!
Thank you for sharing that! I was very interested in the preserves in tea. I love tea and learning about different tea practices. I also believe that tea can be very medicinal. ????
Maria Schneider says
I’m not feeling so hot this week either. But I do take my tea with half and half. 🙂 I used to like bergamot, but it’s too strong these days. A hint is good, Earl Gray is overkill.
Feel better soon.
For my Scottish grandmother, the doctor always prescribed tea and toast when they were under the weather. Sometimes I’ll have an herbal “tea” instead with some ground pepper in it.
If nothing else, tea is always good for the soul. I really like hearing different tea traditions!
My eldest daughter and I collect those kinds of home remedies….
My Puerto Rican mother-in-law: J&J baby cream. Fever-baby cream. Constipation-baby cream+nap+slightly older first cousin to read you until you took said nap. Broken arm-baby cream with ace bandage.
My mother (Trinidadian+Barbardian grandmother, and adolescence in England just after WWII). Outside problem-witch hazel….bruises, broken bones, rashes, sprains, ingrown hairs. Except chicken pox–that got calamine lotion.
Internal problem — Specialized Tea. Anemia/low energy- Beef, Iron and Wine Tea. “Stomach problems” (anything from menstrual cramps to stomach cancer) “Bush Tea”(don’t ask). Constipation – Senna tea (take Stephen King’s unedited version of The Stand with you to the bathroom). you get the picture.
Too funny. That book will always remind me of my college years, but for different reasons 😀 .
Patricia Schlorke says
I always thought someone could get through War and Peace or a James Clavell book after taking Senna tea. If Stephen King’s unedited version of The Stand will do, sure. 🙂
Just make sure no one else needs to use the bathroom if it’s the only one in the place. 😀
Bill G says
Cool; thanks for the insight.
Kiri Guyaz says
Ilona, LOVED this! Brought so many of the extremely complicated (to my poor brain, in comprehensible!) but beloved tea rituals my host family did with me daily! I lived in northern Russia in 1993, crazy time to be there but I adored it—problem was, I only had 2 semesters of Russian language before landing there, and they helpfully put me in the Russian literature department none of whom spoke one whisper of English, so I was lost and drowning in that beautiful but hard language! Made friends with the profs in their English language department and got a tiny fluent! But yeah I adored the tea making rituals! My host family was native Komi, so it was a little different but not much. Such joyous memories—thank you!!!????????????????
Here is some of my hokhloma—
Thank you. That was so interesting! ????
Lynn Thompson says
Thank you, Ilona Andrews for the post.
I ROFLOL and LMAO. My father and paternal family were/ are hot tea drinkers. Mother and her family are hot coffee drinkers. So my siblings and I learned to make both growing up. However none of us are coffee drinkers as adults.
Our tastes run the tea gauntlet from A to Z as second sibling went around the world with military and sent home a different tea every Christmas. We sent Charleston sc plantation grown black tea back. ????
Thank you for the info.
Table of eight people at college formal dinner dance. Wait staff comes around after dinner, “how many for coffee?”, seven people ask for coffee, one person asks for tea. That one person? Me.
Got Lipton tea bag with a lemon slice and a cute little pot with hot water. Still prefer tea, not a coffee drinker….????
Karen the griffmom says
Lipton tea in restaurants is why I carry zip lock baggies with my favorite teas.
My brother was travelling around Darjeeling a few years ago and went to a specialist tea plantation. They tasted all of the locally grown products and he said they were amazing. At then end the guide was very excited to share a ‘special’ tea with them – not local – an expensive, imported one. Very special.
It was Lipton and apparently even more terrible than my brother remembered it being from when we’ve been to the states (I always travel with my own teabags if going to the US)
Interesting! My Chinese mom would also solve conjunctivitis with a tea compress, although she used a chrysanthemum tea always. And yes it always helped. I’m wondering if the warmth and moist compress helps your eyes fight it off.
Apparently warm tea bags for dry eyes and styes. Cold for pink eye, red eyes, shrinking bags under the eyes (sliced cucumber works too) and minor eye injuries
What an amazing and fun post!!
I had an Irish friend who said he liked tea “strong enough for a mouse to trot across the top.” He had lots of tea sayings … like “that’s about as useful as a chocolate tea pot.”
I love tea and learning about different customs..
Rt Boyce says
Wonderful post! I love hearing about tea traditions and personal favorites.
Tea story: I went out to a dim sum lunch with coworkers, and my coworker who emigrated from Hong Kong (and loves dim sum!) was ready to help us order.
The waitress arrives, hands out little menus and there’s a brief exchange in Chinese. She departs.
Mystified, we ask – what did she say?
Oh, she was asking what kind of tea we wanted.
It’s like a secret menu: Chinese restaurants often have several kinds of tea, but only those in the know are asked which they want.
So what kind did you order? we asked.
It turns out she always orders the same kind her father liked, who passed away when she was a child, and who loved taking his family out for a leisurely dim sum lunch on Sundays.
Julie Stranburg says
In Outer Mongolia I got hooked on a tea my hosts made. Black tea shaved off a brick of tea, milk and of all things, salt!! Called milk cha. I have never been able to copy it once back in the states. Always end up with salty tea????
Some places in the South they serve what I lovingly call Hummingbird Tea. That is cold tea, but so super sweet that hummingbirds would love it. 🙂 I usually have to add water to dilute it. At that point it’s easier to just get a soda. Probably less sugar too. 🙂
I’m Greek, and our cure all for everything was Camomile Tea…. headache, stomach ache, cuts… drink Camomile Tea ????????
Gina G says
The loose leaf flowers – never in a tea bag and always bought from a Greek delicatessen ????
Susie Q. says
Many readers have referred to chamomile tea. Chamomile tea is bad for people who are allergic to ragweed. The results can range from mild to life threatening ( anaphylaxis). Ironically, I found out that the health food store was bad for my health. There are also other foods that you should avoid if you have “hay fever” or ragweed allergies. Check with Google for list.
This is interesting. I’m allergic to ragweed, but I drink chamomile tea all the time and have never had an issue. I have cross allergies with tree nuts and some stone fruits though.
Grew up drinking tea in the British style. My Polish parents would occasionally make tea in the Russian style during the winter when there was a few feet of snow outside (Great Lakes – Ontario and Erie) after shoveling the driveway. It consisted of brewed black tea poured into a tall glass over a teaspoon and then adding honey and lemon.
Sara B. says
Interesting day for this topic. Made a pot of Republic of Tea Chai this morning (have not been drinking much black tea). I drink it sweetened, but without milk. I do love their version of Chai … has black pepper and coriander as well as the usual cinnamon and ginger.
And in a pinch, it makes a very good seasoning blend for roast chicken (learned that on a camping trip).
Thank you for sharing the tea information.
I like chai and I like it spicy — black pepper adds just the right bite. I will try this brand. I have been enjoying the store organic brand of chai in tea bags (O Organics) from Albertsons/Tom Thumb.
Tea has always been my caffeinated drink of choice. I cannot abide coffee, even in chocolate or ice cream. I also greatly dislike bergamot and won’t drink Earl Grey even if there is no other tea available.
My grandfather (Norwegian descent; I don’t know if it’s cultural) drank tea and had tins of loose tea. He would fix tea for me when we visited and we would drink it together. This is probably what set me up with tea for life. He died when I was five and I remember us doing this when I was as young as three.
Because tea has always been considered healthful even in parts of the U.S., I was allowed to drink tea even as a kid. My brother was not allowed to drink coffee regularly until he was 16. When we were sick and stuck at home, sick food was toast, lightly buttered, and weak tea with a little sugar. I have drunk tea with no sugar, with sugar, with milk and sugar, and with milk and no sugar at varying times in my life. I am now going to explore tea with jam.
Thank you for this post about Russian tea practices. I really enjoyed it.
Never really liked coffee or black tea. Black tea has to be super weak – a few dunks of a tea bag in the water. Green tea is good. I love most herbal teas though with peppermint being my favorite. No add ins.
Fun post – thanks!
Have you read the Duchess’s 50 Tea Recipes manhua? I think you’d enjoy it, I think it’s on Tapas.
Tea story. Ten years ago, I went to a Korean spa located in suburban Baltimore, built next to a defunct mall. It is not there any more. There was a men’s side and a women’s side. In the women’s side, there was a large heated soaking pool with a floating herbal tea bouquet in the center, steeping. The steaming water was brown and tea-colored. I was instructed to strip and soak myself for 20 minutes before my energizing body scrub (this treatment was their signature spa experience). The tea soak softened my skin so it could more easily be scrubbed away, including skin tags (tmi?). The scrub treatment was sort of dehumanizing, I was turned and scrubbed while I lay on a big vinyl table. Worth all the uncomfortable novelty was the final two minutes, when the scrubbing tech poured pitchers of warm clear water onto me to rinse me clean, the way we pour cups of bath water on a baby. I have never had a chance to tell anyone about this remarkable experience.
Marie P says
That reminds me of my one and only visit to a Korean bathhouse, in Seoul. We were brave, and signed up for the massage. The massage ladies asked if I was Russian! Understandable, maybe, as I’m as white as can be, but I’m also pretty short.
John Chew says
Our family rode the Trans-Siberian Railway in the spring of 1973, as part of a rail trip from Nakhodka to Helsinki. Tea was served with every meal, with a recommended sweetener of strawberry jam. (I developed a home recipe for Russian tea ice cream as an homage to the experience.) One day when my then six-year-old brother caught a bad cold and had to miss meal service, the concerned chef gave us tea with lemons, which were indeed an unbelievable luxury then, imported from California. I was left with a lasting impression of a people who valued children more than anyone else we’d met in our travels.
My Grandmother would insist we drink tea on our feast day, Catholic saints day you were named after. So for me it would be feasts of St Catherine, of which there are 3. She would make me what she called ginger tea which was weak tea with lots of milk and sugar. She made it “pale as heaven and sweet as sin”.
Jasmine tea with sugar♡
Nicole Pope says
Thank you, this was lovely.
My mother told me there is a saying from the panhandle of Texas “it ain’t been saucered and blowed yet” — that is, it’s nearly ready. Comes from the idea one would pour one’s tea into the saucer and blow on it to cool it down.
My favorite tea is Good Earth Sweet & Spicy.
Reminds me of my first time drinking tea the Russian way. It was my first visit to meet my then-boyfriend’s beloved babushka, so of course I wanted to make the very best impression.
She was a retired arts journalist from Leningrad, the kind of woman who still smoked in her 80s, walked a mile a day for her health, and knew Baryshnikov from back when. Her tiny apartment was full of books and pictures and pairs. I was totally terrified of screwing up.
So when she offered me many, many cups of incredibly strong tea, paired with preserves and chocolate candies from her neighbor Sveta’s old factory in Ukraine…I mean, what could I do? I just kept drinking the tea, and adding more preserves, and accepting yet another chocolate. I didn’t want to be rude. And also, the tea with jam was delicious. I was there for 90 min and must have drank at least 4 cups of tea and eaten ten candies.
Fifteen min after we left, I had unstoppable caffeine/sugar jitters and desperately needed a bathroom. Unfortunately, it was an hour’s drive home, in a midwest winter, with no public toilets on the way.
I learned to be careful about Russian tea the hard way.
Katherine L Nobles says
I was a Russian linguist in the US Army, back in the 70s, stationed in Germany. A British Command Sgt Maj. was visiting our base, getting briefings from the various units. When he came to ours, my commanding officer asked me to make tea for him, as he knew I drank more tea than coffee. I had a proper teapot, English Breakfast loose tea, proper teacups and a nice tray. When I brought it into the meeting room, the visitor looked up, and sighed. I got out the strainer, poured him a cup, and let him fix it as he liked. After a sip, he sighed again, but more happily, and said, “Thank God. Real tea” Apparently, the other units had been giving him Lipton, brewed weak!
I haven’t thought about that Russian tea mix for ages. Many years ago I made copious amounts of that and hot chocolate mix for Christmas gifts.
I was cold at work last week. I am not a coffee drinker, so I was reduced to hot water, a chocolate candy bar, and vanilla coffee creamer. It worked and warmed me up nicely. We won’t discuss the odd look I got from the cook.
A thought on Conjunctivitis – tannins are a natural antibacterial, antifungal, and insecticide. It may actually be helping clear up whatever infection has taken place.
There are communities that use gallnut powder, another type and source of tannin as a toothpaste for these reasons.
Disclaimer – Not a doctor, just a fibre and dye artist
Ms. Kim says
Your comments and pictures actually reminded me of Ankara Turkey in the 1970s. I actually bought a Russian samovar there (it was stamped 1917 with the Czar’s head) and I used it to make tea. the coal that goes in the samovar must be soft coal, like they had in Turkey. When I brought it back to the United States, the common charcoal briquets in a bag (Kingsford?) burned too hot for the samovar.
The Turkish samovars in the bazaar were all square looking, but the Russian samovar was rounded, as in your picture.
I now use my electric kettle and small pot of very strong tea, which I drink from small cups so it doesn’t get cold. Then I pore more from the small pot and add hot water from the electric kettle (so like I did in Turkey). This way I don’t have to use the microwave. I don’t have my Russian samovar anymore, I moved too many times, and I cleaned it once with Tarnax (a mistake-too strong).
By the way, as I’m writing this on my mobile home deck, a dolphin is swimming around my seawall. I wondered why the fish were jumping out of the water.
I live in St. Petersburg, 2 miles from Madeira Beach and the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1975, October, I was in Saint Petersburg, Soviet Union (it had a different name I think) and we were being shown Peter’s palace. It was snowing and coming in through those enormous doors with the snow trying to blow in made me think of the movie Dr. Zhivago. Although St. Petersburg had the Hermitage and smiling people, the things to see in Moskva (Red Square) were, I think, more impressive.
Thank you for the little snapshot from your deck! I was on the phone with an editor once when a big buck walked past the window in front of my desk. I apologized for saying, “Whoa!” but she thanked me for the visual. Meanwhile this morning we have 6″ of new powder on everything, absolutely lovely, but it’s 25F and the wind is picking up. I want to be where you are.
The city used to be called Leningrad. It was changed back after Soviet Union collapsed
anne-marie stager says
In Switzerland, the breakfast drink is 1/2 milk and 1/2 coffee. Everyone drinks it even the kids. It was a shock to me when I visited relatives in the 1970’s.
As an avid loose-leaf tea drinker, this post pretty much rocked. Learned something new about Russia today. Thanks!
Elizabeth Jensen says
Thank you – very interesting. Last time I bought tea from my local tea/coffee shop, I actually had a discussion with them about russian tea habits because I was so curious after your last comment about preserve in tea.
I did try it out – putting regular raspberry jam in my indian black plain tea, and it tasted fine although all the seeds left in the cup was a bit odd. I might try some other kind of preserve.
Patricia Schlorke says
You might want to try seedless raspberry jam if you can find it.
That poor Russian engineer who thought the tea was deficient – I can’t! 😀
My parents are from Poland and when we visited, black tea was always served in glasses with metal holders. The benefit is that glasses cool faster, too. I thought it was so exotic and fancy.
We drank black tea at home too, with lemon and sugar. Lots of sugar. I was allowed to start when I was nine or ten, and since my parents didn’t really supervise me, I quickly devolved into putting 5 teaspoons of sugar into one mug of tea. Super healthy. xD I couldn’t drink it now. Hate black tea, only drink herbal and some green – unsweetened.
I presently am Covid positive and an in isolation. I am craving the healing tea my mom use to make. Black tea boiled with ginger and black pepper and heavily sweetened. This was given to us in large mugs as we snuggled under the blankets or large woollen shawl.
Hope you feel better soon!
Feel better! Sometimes I add black peppercorns to my tea. Yum!!!
Thank you for your story.
As an estonian, I can only add, that when fireweed leaves are fermented correctly, this kind of tisane tastes really good and is a good immunity booster. Here we call it Ivan chai!
Happy tea moments, and raspberry together with black currant is even better for me. Treats various colds like a charm and is very tasty.
My go-to is English breakfast tea with milk, no sugar. Perfect! And also Southern brewed sweet tea, as I live in Atlanta.
I don’t know about those other remedies, but there might be something to the rosehip tea. Rosehip have a very high amount of vitamin C, though it does denature at the high temperatures needed to brew tea.
Ah tea. It was the same back home in Romania. Feeling sick? Tea. Eye hurts? Chamomile tea on a cotton pad. Coughing? Onion tea (the most vile thing ever). I drank tea made from the weirdest things because I had severe asthma as a kid and every mom and grandma had some weird recipe they would swear would cure me and I was made to test it each time.
I drink tea almost every day in the winter even now as an adult. I drink liters of tea whenever I get a cold and have about 50 types in my house at all times. My Norwegian fiance thinks I’m crazy.
Bonus fact: the Romanian word for tea is also “ceai” which sounds identical to the chai tea Americans as so fond of. I was somewhat confused in the beginning about the “tea tea” option
Patricia Schlorke says
That’s the first time I have ever heard of onion tea. I agree it sounds vile.
It sounds almost as bad as a home remedy I use to make called firewater. It was hot water, vinegar (usually apple cider vinegar), a little table salt, and cayenne pepper. The cayenne was to taste. My mom drank that with about a tablespoon of cayenne pepper in it when her throat would get sore and close up. It works, but it tastes really vile.
Fascinating! I first tried Russian Caravan tea while in a London tea shop as a wee college student and it totally, utterly captivated me. I have always, will always, love tea. How could you not? Dina’s line about tea of some sort being culturally unifying is something I think about often. Especially since my husband and I are starting a tea farm on our back 5 acres ???? and in fact, our best performing plants are originally from Sochi
All the tea info and comments have been so interesting! I prefer coffee but I have about 7-8 different teas in my life at all times as you never know when I’ll want one. I have to admit, while loose leaf is generally better tasting, I’m also too lazy to use it very often. If you want to try a tasty black tea that doesn’t ever seem to get too bitter, Dilmah from Sri Lanka is very nice. It’s my go to for an unflavored tea. They do make a bunch of fruit flavored ones, but I’ve never tried any.
And tannic acid has long been known to have both anti bacterial and anti viral properties, so it doesn’t surprise me that so many cultures have used tea for so many different medical conditions.
We put used tea bags on horses eyelids when they are puffy, but not enough to warrent a call to the vet. Any yeah, it does seem to help clear it up faster than not!
Fascinating! I have never heard of putting preserves in tea but I am definitely going to try it. Having married into a Japanese and Chinese family I do want to say that unsweetened tea is definitely the east Asian way. I drink coffee in the morning and fruity herbal tea at night.
Спасибо огромное! An article that beautifully explains tea to my non-Russian husband and why my family loves it so much
Random trivia and Scrabble word time. I am pretty sure that a podstakannik is called a zarf in English. Lots of points and weird looks when you olay that word
Helen Silva says
I went to Russia in the early ’70s on a school choir trip. We went to Moscow, Leningrad, and Kiev. I remember the big samovars of tea on a breakfront at the end of the corridor in the hotel. I found that so interesting.
I also remember Russia (It was USSR at the time) as being an architecturally beautiful country, with a rich complex history that was fascinating. The museums that we visited and the arts venues we attended were amazing. And the people were always genuinely warm and friendly. I have some lovely memories of that trip.
I love the notion that tea cures everything! Being of Irish descent, tea was always available. Family or friends visiting? Put the kettle on…no one drank coffee after breakfast. We drank tea when we were sick, cranky, often toast would accompany that because tea and toast cured it all…ha ha. Still does in my house…and no nasty bergamot in my tea, thank you!
Broken arm? – Tea ????????
Helen Carames says
A tea remedy I have used for years involves plain old Lipton tea. Brew a strong pot of Lipton and pour over a large bowl of ice. Soak white cotton in the liquid and wring out, apply to sunburns. You can also add a pot of Lipton to a cool bath and soak in it, although we reserved that method for the “I can barely walk I am so sunburned.” occurrences.
We used this when I was a kid. It has the side effect of turning your sunburn into a tan.
Co-signed. (Though I am pretty sun resistant, so it was usually me ministering to family and friends.)
I brew a pot of tea for dinner in the fall & winter, as strong as possible and with two or three spoonfuls of local honey in the pot for allergies. I put milk in their mugs to cool it so they don’t burn their mouth. The older they get the less milk. 🙂
I take my tea as strong as possible when I’m working, English Breakfast or Russian Caravan please!
Jeanette Krebs says
I am a tea-oholic (hot tea) and I live in the South. I have tried to show my children and grandchildren how wonderful hot tea is. I am having some good results, as a few of my granddaughters like to have tea with me!!
Can I just say that it is so fascinating to read of all the different backgrounds and experiences of the BDH.
And Italian Canadian here. Grew up with the half milk/half coffee in the cereal bowl with my Cheerios. Tea was only for sick people.
Then I got old … er, more mature and coffee late at night became problematic. So it’s Earl Grey or Lady Grey for me and Lemon Ginger for my sister at night.
“Sweet Tea” is still waaaayyyy too much for me. When we could travel and I went to the States, I could never ask for tea bc I could never be sure I wouldn’t get that cold, wpsweet stuff. Ugh.
(Sorry, sweet tea lovers)
Kelly M says
It’s funny, someone told me years ago that chamomile tea is a cure for conjunctivitis (applied the way you described) – I’ve used it successfully since then, to the great approbation of our family physician, who has actually confirmed the presence and subsequent absence of conjunctivitis after treatment with tea. I’ve never thought of using regular tea but will have to remember this for next time! (I rarely have chamomile at home – I dislike the taste – so have to run out and buy it every time).
Jessie West says
Your last few sentences remind me of two songs- I’m sure they originated elsewhere, but I knew them thus: Have a Cuppa Tea by Great Big Sea (https://youtu.be/0OSDItxZR_0) and A Cup of Brown Joy by Professor Elemental (https://youtu.be/eELH0ivexKA)
It’s cold and gross out, so seems like a lovely time for tea! Hope you feel better soon.
Other random tea factoid. Dogs going through radiation get soar gums. Tea is used to sooth it.
When I was growing up, sunscreen was not used as often as it is today. We had suntan lotion but it did not work as well as today’s products so we just got burned. We would then put used tea bags on the sunburn. It did two things. Most importantly to me it took away the pain. Something to do with the tannic acid in the tea. It also changed your color from red (or white before the sunburn) to tan.
I LOVE my Russian tea blend by the French tea company Mariage Freres called Alexandra David-Neel! Love the Russian tea history
I’m pretty ecumenical when it comes to tea. Growing up, at home we had tea in bags. Then there was Chinese tea (though I didn’t get exposed to really good Chinese tea until I was older) and Japanese tea, mostly via various family members. In middle school my mom got mad at me because I went through Constant Comment too quickly. (I had one cup a day. My mom… was generally bad at being frugal. The kind of person who serves meat all the time, but then buys a tiny bottle of olive oil which is only for salads, and complains bitterly about my cooking always tasting better than hers.)
In my teens, when I was first on my own, as soon as I wasn’t broke my morning ritual was a pot of Bewley’s, and real cream. (And the new york times, because I was a ridiculous 15 year old.) And green leaf tea in the afternoons, maybe.
I learned to make chai from one of my Uighur friends when I was studying various turkic languages. I still really dislike most of what is sold as chai in the US – the chai mixes taste bitter, metallic, and unbalanced to my palate. Cardamon needs to be used *carefully*. I was lured away from a more traditional mode of making chai by a spice seller friend, who taught me to make a decoction of the spices in a small amount of water, and then add tea to steep, before adding milk. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some simmered milk chai, but it’s a pain to work with and I like the results of the decoction/infusion method best.
In grad school I got heavily into green tea – which seems, for me, to be chinese leaf teas, and than matcha imported from Japan. (There is good matcha available in the US, but there’s more terrible matcha. Ye gods.) This has continued as my staple. I also keep both green and black teas on hand (oh, yeah, my black teas are much more varied in origin) as well as a number of tisanes. I’ve long been caffeine sensitive, and if I want to sleep I should have substantial amounts of caffeine past noon. (I also sometimes make chai with rooibos. One of my favorite post martial arts beverages if students are hanging out, on cooler evenings. This was extra fun when I lived on the housebarge, when sometimes I would end up with a small crowd in my very limited space.) (I miss that! I have a great space for it right now – and the big back porch for warm evenings – but with the pandemic, the only teaching I’ve been doing is via webcam.)
Bill from NJ says
Thank you for this, really learned a lot. Using tea with conjunctivitis works I suspect bc tea has tannic acid, which is closely related to the boric acid often used to treat things like eye inflammation. Tea itself is supposed to contain anti inflammatories.
On the other hand military surgeons hated British medics, they would give a wounded soldier a huge dose of morphine and a cup of tea,without seeing if patient had a belly wound,Brits were legendary for tea peritonitis cases.
I remember the glasses w the metal holder. When I was growing up friend of mine’s family was Russian ( grandfather escaped from the USSR in the early 20s). The grandmother lived with them,and I remember the Samovar and the glasses.
The Russian approach to tea sounds a bit similar to the Irish one! Tea for every emotional issue. Flat 7-up (Sprite, and yes, it had to be flat) for every internal physical ailment. Sudocreme (zinc oxide cream) for every external physical ailment. It’s a wonder any of us are still alive….
I won’t drink tea without milk unless it’s plain green tea with my dinner. I also like my earl grey to have enough bergamot to smack you. Davidson’s is usually the best for this.
Ginger Wierzbanowski says
This post and all your stories just made me smile & laugh. First, I grew up in Southeast Alaska (fireweed everywhere). I got a masters degree in Slavic Languages and Literature and my advisor (from Omsk, Siberia) taught me about many homeopathic remedies. My favorite with tea (to help if you have diarrhea) was to make really ungodly strong black tea then put wheat toast in the toaster, then in the oven to get it super hard & dry. Then you eat the toast, followed by the tea and it would settle your stomach, stop the issues.
Sara Joy says
Love this!! My mother (community health nurse and prof) swore by chamomile tea to clear up conjunctivitis, applied just as you described above.
I can picture myself and colleagues having the same discussion you described with the (very strong) green tea above!
Tea for whatever ails ya! This is the way.
Oh, I really miss tea! It was my go-to drink for years, usually brewed medium strength, with lemon, or stronger with milk and sugar at breakfast. Now I can’t drink tea (or coffee, not such a loss) because of acid reflux and gastritis. I hung on to green tea for awhile, lower caffeine and acid, but eventually had to give that up too. Herbal tisanes are nice and I have quite the variety of them, and I’m trying to like rooibus chai (spiced with milk). But whenever I read about characters drinking real tea, I get so nostalgic.
When I was a child, my mother would give us “cambric tea” (very pale, with milk and sugar) when we were sick. We drank iced tea (unsweet but with sugar available) all day long in the summer. A running joke for kids who added too much was “Would you like some tea with your sugar?” I’m old enough to remember that “Russian Tea” mix made with Tang. I believe we have Heloise to blame for it (or at least for popularizing it). But then my mother discovered Constant Comment and never looked back. The scent of that (or similar orange-spice tea blends) brings her back to me.
Lovely to get a person take in life as it was in USSR
From a direct source.
I have a facebook friend in Kiev , she also does a-great job helping those of us who have not traveled to Russia , Ukraine to get a small feel for-the culture.
Muddy Mindy says
Oh yes. My great-grandmother’s brass samovar had a prominent position on the banquet. She drank her tea with preserves, and I did too. I forgot all about this (I was really little), but I thought her tea was special. I bet it was the jam. Or maybe her samovar. I have a bit of raspberry jam left, as well as gooseberry.
I can’t wait to try raspberry preserves in tea. I’m going to look for reduced sugar.
I used to be able to find this Zhenas gypsy tea/ raspberry Earl that I LOVE on Amazon. It’s the perfect blend, not tangy or sour but a perfect blend of Bergamot and raspberry. I think bergamot is like cilantro-either you love it or hate it and I can’t get enough of it!
Linda Trainor says
I love Earl Grey tea all types and I like it strong but not brewed too long so I can use 2 or 3 bags. Black and sweet.
My daughter had COVID this week and drank a lot of tea to soothe her hurting throat. My husband (an Ukrainian) first brew her some rosehips tea (it seems he have gathered some from our roses this fall), and then went to the stores to get raspberry jam for the tea. One can’t get over what’s learned in childhood:-)
And yes he uses zavarka. I keep forgetting to add the hot water so I always drink the stronger version than him.
There’s just something about this time of year that drags me down, too- you are not alone in feeling a bit under the weather. If you can, take a break- ME days (My Enjoyment;) and conversation with loved ones are awesome cure alls! I highly recommend curling up in a comfy spot with fuzzy socks and warm blankets and taking a day devoted to relaxing- binge watch A Discovery of Witches (scenery is wonderful! First season is currently included with Prime through January 31st), eat junk food, lay under a sun lamp, take naps, read, call your favorite people on the phone- you get the idea;). I hope you feel better soon! The winter doldrums are tough…
Thank you for fostering future tea sommeliers- really fun history;)
Lauren Weber says
Loved this! Thank you for writing it! Ps. Love love love your books!
Nessa Auntie says
I enjoyed this post! My grandparents were Russian emigrants, and they always took their tea in glasses, not cups. They also used to hold a sugar cube in their teeth and sip the tea through it. I have my dad’s family samovar, although we have never used it (the top teapot is missing), certainly would not like having to clean the inside!
Loved this post on tea ????. The go-to brew in my house for sniffles and sore throat is ginger tea. A large chunk of fresh ginger (grated/sliced), cassia bark pieces (cinnamon’s cheaper and more flavorful cousin), and cloves, boiled up in about 2 or 3 cups of water until it has a light tea colour and the ginger is making your eyes water. Pour over a rooibos tea bag and dose with honey and lemon. Drink while hot for the full “this must surely be killing the germs!” effect.
I loved reading about everyone’s different tea experiences. My husband and I are both born-and-bred South Africans of Indian descent. His family are breakfast coffee drinkers, followed by rooibos tea thereafter. My family are sweet milky black tea addicts, or lightly sweetened chai drinkers (made with lemongrass leaves, ginger, and homemade chai spice).
Here in SA, the most popular brand is called Five Roses. Saffers have been known to pack in their Five Roses teabags when visiting the UK, because PG Tips and Tetley just doesn’t cut it. We have also been known to bring our favourite tea biscuits: Tennis and Marie biscuits. (Maa-ree).
Over time, I have come to appreciate jasmine tea and Earl Grey, and this amazing Amazon leaf tea which I have never been able to find again. Rooibos is not my favourite and matcha is a bit bitter for my tastes.
*Note to self: I thought I saw raspberry jam in the fridge…
Hi all. I am also from Russia, Moscow suburbs. Milk with tea was a thing in our household. Black tea, of course. Tea packets, however, didn’t exist when I grew up. At the end of the Soviet era we would buy tea by weight from certain shops. When I moved to USA I discovered that only ‘fancy’ tea drinkers do that. ‘Normal’ people buy packets, lol
Cymru Llewes says
My mother, the RN, says to brew very strong black tea and brush it on your tongue to kill a thrush infection. So I imagine the same mechanism works for conjunctivitis.
I’m amused that the Russian market in Manchester, NH is where I can find the Ahmad of London black fruit teas.
Bologna breakfast sandwiches… uhm, I think I’ll stick with bologna cups with shirred eggs from the Betty Crocker For Kids cookbook.
Totally with you on the temperature of proper tea – it needs to be properly brewed and drunk as soon as you can bear it.
I once was talked into selling my favorite podstakannik. It was considered very exotic here in Southern Alabama. Most that turn up here are the guy on a raring horse, this was a depiction of Sputnik.
Win Win says
Korea, Yuja Tea and I’ve heard it looks strange to people to spoon honey citron into a cup and fill with water: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuja_tea
There are other flavors: ginger, and pear for example and I found at Costco before.
I had heard in Finland, preserves/jam/marmalade is added to tea.
When you add raspberry jam to your tea, is there a special variety, or brand? I am 20 minutes from Russian delis and can look when I’m there next. I get Olivier salad, badrijani nigvzit and piroshki to go.
I found a recipe that said it was a Russian tea sandwich called pastille. I don’t know if this is accurate or not or it you have ate it. However, I was intrigued by whipping apples into a type of meringue because I don’t have to feel guilty about eating apples, right? I have used a recipe online that consists of 6 apples, 3/4 C sugar, and 2 egg whites. I was using a hand mixer because I had never invested in a stand up mixer. The consistency was squishy and flat, not like the pictures. I finally broke down and got an inexpensive mixer and tried again, which created awesome firm whipped apple. These sheets of pastille are supposed to be marshmallow-y. The outer part of the sheet is marshmallow-y now after using the stand up mixer (now I just need a new oven 😉 ). Why am I telling you all this? I’m wondering first…is it really a staple of russian tea? Second, have you had it? Did you like it? What was the texture? Do you make it? Do you think it would work with banana? Apparently my teenager doesn’t like the apple, he wants to try banana. Not my preference, for sure. Thanks!
This post made me so nostalgic. My family emigrated Russia in 1989, and to this day my mom heals with tea all possible ails. ????