From Russia with tea

What do you miss the most when you are not at home? Or what is a necessary part of your day? To me this is tea.

I am not myself if I don’t have at least one cup of hot tea a day. I am from Russia where tea-drinking has become a national tradition.Tea is an extremely significant part of Russian culture. Hot tea is one of the most popular beverages in the country partly because of its cold climate. Today, an estimated 80 percent of Russians drink tea every day.

History of tea

According to Wikipedia, the first time Russians came in contact with tea was in 1567 when Cossack Atamans Petrov and Yalyshev visited China.

In 1638,  a Mongolian ruler donated to Tsar Michael l four poods (65-70 kg) of tea.

In 1679, Russia concluded a treaty on regular tea supplies from China via camel caravan in exchange for furs. At that time the difficult trade route made the cost of tea extremely high. So, tea became available only to royalty and the very wealthy Russians.

in 1649, traders opened the Tea Road between Russia and China through Siberia, which just accepted the Russian patronage. That increased caravans going to China for tea.

For some reasons in 1706 Peter the Great made it illegal for any merchants to trade in Beijing.

It was Only in 1786 that Catherine the Great re-established regular imports of tea.

By the time of Catherine’s death in 1796 Russia was importing enough tea to lower the price. That made it affordable for middle and lower class Russians.

In 1880 the first leg of the Trans-Siberian railway was completed. That significantly decreased the time for tea to be imported from a year and a half to just over a week.

Natalia Volgina, my friend

In the mid 19th century Russia began to import more tea from Odessa* and London; thereby causing a decline in imported  Chinese tea.


The first local tea plant was set in Nikitsk botanical gardens in 1814. While the first industrial tea plantation was established in 1885. The Russian tea industry greatly expanded only after World War II. However, by the mid 1990s (when the Soviet Union broke apart), tea production came to a standstill. Today, the main area in Russia for tea production is in the vicinity of Sochi.

I brought tea along with the birch bark container (tuesok) from Russia.

During the Soviet Union Era, mostly Georgian tea was available at the stores. Indian tea was considered to be tastier, but was in short supply.

Tea things

Traditionally, tea has been brewed in Russia using a samovar. This is a barrel or urn-shaped container usually made of copper or nickel. 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.

A small teapot called zavarnik was placed on top of the samovar and used to brew a very strong tea, while the samovar itself contained only water. People usually place a small amount of tea from zavarnik and add some hot water from inside the samovar.


Nowadays many samovars have an electric heating element. Also people don’t locate zavarnik on top of a samovar.

Modern samovar at my friend’s house in Saint Petersburg, Russia

My Mom always wanted to have a samovar, but they were not available at the stores. Only at her 50-es anniversary my sister and I managed to buy the samovar as a gift.

Tea usually is served  at the end of meals with dessert.

Here in the US, I use just a regular teapot to boil water.

I drink tea any time when I don’t want coffee. I like to eat a small sandwich with it and some jam or condensed milk. Sometimes I can add some peppermint or lemon or ginger to my tea.


As a bonus I want to share with you a homemade cough remedy. Before going to bed, fill  half of a tea mug with hot, black, strong tea and add red wine until full, drink it and go to bed. Cough will not bother you all night.

*Odessa is Ukraine city and seaport located on the northwestern shore of the Black Sea. Ukraine became an one of the fifteen socialist republics in 1922.

Author: Elena

Hi, My name is Elena. I am Russian living in the US. My blog is about my life and experience. This is my new hobby. So, please, don't be too hard on me. Thanks

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