In the 19th century, tea became widely popular in Russia, transcending class boundaries and developing its own unique drinking customs that spread beyond its borders. Russians are credited with creating “Russian flavoured” tea and the samovar, which became an iconic symbol of hospitality. Tea was initially brought to Russia by caravans from Mongolia and was initially only consumed by the aristocracy in cities. However, it eventually became a staple beverage that people of all backgrounds enjoyed several times a day, whether in the comfort of their own homes or in public establishments, with family, friends, or business associates.
The samovar, an ingenious device that functions as both a kettle and a thermos, played a critical role in the preparation and enjoyment of tea in Russia. The samovar, which has its origins in Russia in the 18th century, is designed to heat water in a firebox at its base while a concentrated tea is kept warm on top. Once the water reaches the desired temperature, it is poured into cups or glasses to dilute the concentrated tea. Samovars were typically made of copper, bronze, or silver and were produced in the city of Toula. They became so popular that they were eventually adopted in countries such as Turkey, Iran, Morocco, and Azerbaijan.
The Flavour of Russian Tea
Russian tea was traditionally strong and black, with a heady aroma that came from China. Russians would often add sugar or jam to their tea to enhance its flavour. Different blends of tea, including the famous smoked black tea Lapsang Souchong, were created specifically for the Russian market and became fashionable throughout Europe in the 19th century. The expression “Russian flavoured tea” emerged during this time to describe these tea blends. Although these blends are still available today, they are not the same as the original blends. In fact, the most well-known blend, which includes bergamot and citrus fruit, was only created around fifty years ago to cater to fans of Earl Grey tea.
From Cup to Glass
The first tea cups were created in Cronstadt, a town to the west of St. Petersburg, according to Alexandre Dumas’ Grand Dictionnaire de cuisine. Some unscrupulous café owners would save money by using a small amount of tea, resulting in a drink that was so light in colour that the image of Cronstadt at the bottom of the cup was still visible. To solve this problem, a manufacturer replaced the cup with a glass, which did not have an image. This change proved to be popular, and glass-encased tea became a common sight.