Everyone knows about Russian vodka, but what not many people know is that Russians are also keen devotees of tea. Perhaps even more than vodka! They like tea so much that they have developed their own tea culture. Here are some of its characteristics.
- Black tea: While Wim and I are used to drinking mostly green or herbal tea, Russians usually drink black tea. In bars and restaurants you can often choose from a whole variety of teas, though. Many of them are with berries, such as sea buckthorn. I must admit I had never heard of it before but it has become one of my favourites now!
- Loose leaf tea: Like the Chinese and Japanese (and unlike Europeans), Russians prefer using loose leaf tea over tea bags. They take a small teapot to which they add a lot (really a lot!) of tea and some hot water, resulting in an incredibly strong brewage. They don’t drink it as such, though, but only pour a bottom of this concentrate in the cups and then add more hot water, traditionally from a samovar.
- Samovar: A samovar is a metal barrel- or urn-shaped container used for heating water. Samovars have been around since 1717 and were originally heated with coal or charcoal. Of course, many modern samovars rather use electricity and are therefore similar to an electric tea kettle. Samovars come in all sorts of different shapes and many of them are true works of art. Here’s one in ‘Khokhloma’ style, one of the most famous kinds of folk Russian decorative painting.
- Varenye: Some kind of jam with large pieces of fruit, often berries, which are cooked in sugar syrup. As varenye is very liquid, it’s not usually eaten with bread like jam, but rather on its own as some kind of dessert. To accompany tea, it’s served in a small bowl, from which you can take a spoon to add to your tea or … straight to your mouth 🙂
- Podstakanniks: These are tea glass holders made from metal and usually decorated. They became widespread in the 20th century, when they were used on railroads, as they improved he stability of the tea glass in moving and shaking carriages. And they’re still used in trains today! This is a picture I took on our last trip to Moscow: