This is part two of my look into Russian tea and tea culture. Though Russia didn’t get introduced to tea until the 17th century from China, it seems that tea didn’t become very popular in Russia until the 19th century.
The tisanes they drank before they were introduced to tea, was called Sbiten – a spices, herb and honey mixture that they drank during the winter. In my research on Sbiten, I could not come to a standard description, and it sounds like it can be made to be slightly alcoholic, or made more like a spice and herb tea. But it seems to include spices like cloves, cinnamon, and ginger. And both recipes I found for it also include a small amount of fruit.
Yet, I’ve heard of stories from those who used to travel on the Russian railroad once upon a time, often recall with great pleasure a tea that would be brewed in a giant samovar in a secluded room. While those who actively sought to find this tea at a later time say they never could, they do agree it was probably some sort of Russian blend. So what makes Russian tea blend so unique? They are often a blend of Chinese and Indian tea, usually a Lapsang Souchong and Assam. They are characterized by the smoky flavor, and usually quite strong tasting, but just what you need to keep you alert and warm on a cold winter in Northern Russia.
Russia might be relatively new to the tea world, especially considering its proximity to several major tea drinking countries, but it most certainly is one that has contributed its own unique style. So if you have a russian blend on your shelf, know you aren’t the only one that has been suduced by its smoky and very strong qualities which can be both confusing and alluring.