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Tea Culture in Russia

Russia is famous for two things: vodka and tea. They are an expert in producing vodka and unstoppable in their ceaseless consumption of tea. Tea is an integral part of Russian culture and tradition. Today, it has become the most favorite drink of Russians from all walks of life (1).

Tea was introduced to Russia in the 17th century. The merchants in camel caravans brought their goods from China, what is now modern day Mongolia. This journey took almost 16 to 18 months. The tea would be unloaded at night. The smoke from the campfires would get into the tea and impart its smoky flavor to the tea. Perhaps, the most famous tea in Russia is called the Russian Caravan – a strong, dark, smoky tea with malty undertones. These days, tea blends are created to mimic that smoked flavor by combining fermented lapsang souchong, oolong, and keemun teas.

Traditionally, Russian tea has been brewed using a samovar. This is a barrel usually made of copper, nickel or brass (silver or gold versions are also available but very rarely seen). The samovar heats the water and on the top of the samovar there is a teapot with concentrated tea called "заварка" (zavarka; tea concentrate).

The tea is brewed and served in very concentrated form along with hot water and the guests can adjust it to be as strong as they like. Sugar, honey, lemon, sweetened condensed milk and jam (yes, jam!) are served as accompaniments and voila, your traditional Russian Caravan is ready to be served! The most common way for Russians to socialize is to visit each other's place at home for "a cup of tea". Typical tea-time snacks include cookies, biscuits, candies, and pie. However, crackers, bread, cheese, and sausages can also be served, especially with close friends.

Russia does have some tea growing regions but the supply is not enough to meet the demands of the total Russian population. Thus, it becomes necessary for Russia to import tea from other countries. Majority of tea is imported into Russia from Asia. Four of the top five tea suppliers are from this continent. By supplies, the top tea exporters are: (1).

"Chai" / "Chay" means tea in both Hindi and Russian language and it is a favorite beverage in both countries. Russia also continues to be the largest importer of Indian tea (2). Tea export from India to Russia is gaining a lot of popularity because of the promotional programs launched by the Tea Board of India (3).

Just like tea in India, tea in Russia is a one-stop solution to various problems, stress, and awkward situations. Hence tea is present at family gatherings, dates, meetings, and reunions. We feel that tea is the more iconic to Russian culture than even vodka.