Russia, believe it or not has been tea drinking country unique in its own respects. The Czars and upper echelon, loved their tea, and it was often had on special occasions. Their tea was also served quite strong, but with a bowl of hot water so they could dilute the tea down to their preferred strength.
One of the icons of Russian tea is the image of the Samovar. The samovar was a great way for them to keep both the tea, and the water to dilute it hot, while having it all in a very fashionable center piece. Modern samovars can now act very much like a electric kettle, while more traditional samovars are heated over coals. Samovars were also great ways for the Russian elite to show off their wealth, as many samovars dating back to the time of the Czars, which were from the very wealthy families, are quite ornately decorated. I recently spent a couple of days in St. Petersburg, and in seeing the ornately decorated palaces of the Russian Aristocracy I can vouch that they seemed quite taken by putting their wealth on display. Anyone who has seen the Amber room in St. Catherine’s palace can vouch for their general love of splendor (6 tons of amber decorated the room, for those that are interested).
When in Russia and fighting my way through the lines at the Hermitage, or touring the Yusupov palace along with many others, one thing you will find is in some room somewhere, there is a beautifully ornate tea set. The tea sets are usually fine bone china and elaborately painted. What really struck my interest was that several of the cups had no handles, like you would see in a more traditional European set. They very much were a European decorated and looking tea set, with cups closer to an Asian fashion.
In part two I will talk about Russsian Tea Blends, and a traditional warm wintertime drink which they consumed before tea became popular in their country.