If asked to name a beverage that’s synonymous with Russian culture, let’s face it, many of us will probably pick vodka. While tea is hardly as popular in that part of the world as this clear spirit it has long been an important part of the Russian beverage landscape nonetheless, having been first introduced there several centuries ago. Tea is significant enough in this part of the world that the Russians evolved a unique device – the samovar – with which to make their tea.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the cold climate, Russians have tended to favor the more robust flavors of black tea, the ones that seem somehow to put the warmth back into our chilled bones. One of the best known of these bears the exotic and rather alluring moniker of Russian Caravan Tea.
In his article, Russia Discovers Tea…and a Somovar, tea expert James Norwood Pratt notes that Russian caravans numbering up to 300 camels would sometimes take as much a year to make journeys to bargain with their various trading partners to the south. One of the articles traded – tea – was initially so pricey that it could only be found in the households of aristocrats and others with deep pockets. Within a century after first being introduced to Russia, Pratt notes, this new beverage had become so popular that tea drinkers there were consuming more than three million pounds annually.
According to the corresponding Wikipedia entry, Russian Caravan tea “is a blend of Oolong, Keemun and Lapsang Souchong teas.” The flavor of oolong tea may vary widely, but the more robust varieties have a smoky, earthy quality. Smokey is a term that can also be applied to the Chinese black variety known as Keemun, though this note is typically not nearly so pronounced. And the smokiest of them all, Lapsang Souchong, gets it unique taste (an acquired one, for some) from being processed over pine wood fires.
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