Things we didn’t know about tea in Russia

A Russian art print by  Helen Vladykina

A Russian art print by Helen Vladykina

Let’s face it: as a blogger for this tea company, sometimes I’m just a girl with a strong Internet connection and a penchant for Googling things about tea. In a quest to provide you with interesting, relevant tea info, I decided to find out what I could about Russian tea culture and report back to all of you, since the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, begins on Friday, February 7.

So imagine my surprise when, thanks to the wonder of Wikipedia, I discover that the prime tea growing part of Russia is, in fact, Sochi! Turns out that while the Russian settlement in the area was named Sochi in 1886, the first tea plantations were established there around 1903. But it took a few tries before tea was successfully grown there. In fact, it was a Ukrainian peasant named Judas Antonovich Koshman who worked for a tea factory on the Black Sea coast and who brought tea plant seeds to Sochi, (or more specifically, the sub-tropical climate of Dagomys, 30 km south of Sochi.) He developed a brand of tea which was both resistant to cold temps, and resulted in a rich taste.

Check out this traditional Russian samovar.

Check out this traditional Russian samovar.

This tea resulted in Krasnodarsky Tea, a brand that is still the most prominent Russian-grown tea and is one of the northernmost tea plantations in the world.

Very cool!

So the next obvious question is, how do Russians like to prepare and drink their tea? This answer is also very cool: with a samovar. We’re posting a picture so you can admire how ornate these tea dispensers can be. Basically, it’s like an electric kettle (they used to be heated with coal or even dry pinecones) that heats water to a perfect boil.

Sitting around the samovar (family portrait in 1844 by T. Myagkov).

Sitting around the samovar (family portrait in 1844 by T. Myagkov).

Up above the heating compartment, a strong tea concentrate is kept warm. It seems that the way to drink tea traditionally in Russia is to mix that tea concentrate with hot water, at roughly a ratio of one part concentrate to 10 parts hot water.

The Russian phrase “to have a sit by the samovar” means to have a leisurely talk while sipping tea. Sounds lovely. These days a samovar is seen as a symbol of hospitality and comfort. There are more gorgeous tea accouterments in Russian tea culture, like pretty tea glass holders.

As for how the Russians take their tea, well, lots of different ways, but typical stir-ins include lemon, sugar or jam. We’ve got to try that! I also liked learning that in the 19th century it was popular to drink tea with a cube of sugar held between your teeth.

If there's a photo of tea drinking in Russia, there's usually a samovar in it.

If there’s a photo of tea drinking in Russia, there’s usually a samovar in it.

Since I think you’ll have a hard time getting your hands on some Russian tea in time for the Winter Olympics broadcast, I’ll leave you with something you can make for your Olympics-viewing tea time: Russian Tea Cakes. Fair warning that no one really knows the association between these cookies and Russia since they go by lots of names, including Mexican Wedding Cookies. Some people think the recipe may have migrated to Mexico with European nuns.

Russian Tea Cakes: Probably not *that* Russian, but delicious all the same.

Russian Tea Cakes: Probably not *that* Russian, but delicious all the same.

My own mother used to make them at Christmas time, and we called them Crescent Cookies, because they can be shaped as pretty little crescents. (And yet, in my family, Crescent Cookies were always just made to be round — a mystery that endures in my mind to this day.)

I’ll leave you with the recipe. And let’s all agree that during the Winter Olympics, we’ll whip up a batch, nibble them while sipping tea on the couch, and reflect on the things we miss about Apolo Ohno. That soul patch just doesn’t have the same swagger to it now that he’s just a commentator, does it?

Enjoy the Olympics, everyone. Cheers! Oh- in Russian, that’s На здоровье (Nahz dah-ROH-vee-ah.)  Now you’ve really earned a cookie.

 

Russian Tea Cakes

-Makes 4 dozen cookies, so invite your friends over-

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 1/4 cups Gold Medal® all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped nuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Powdered sugar

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 400ºF.
  2. Mix butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar and the vanilla in large bowl. Stir in flour, nuts and salt until dough holds together.
  3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place about 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
  4. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set but not brown. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool slightly on wire rack.
  5. Roll warm cookies in powdered sugar; cool on wire rack. Roll in powdered sugar again.

 

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