Tea Time with the Russians

The above image by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii depicts a tea weighing station in  Russia. The Chakva farm and plant was one of the major suppliers of tea to all parts of the Russian Empire. For many of us, tea is so commonplace that we don’t often think of its impact and origins beyond the fact that most tea comes from China. However, this tiny leaf has quite the story and impact on the Russian cultural landscape. Tea leaves first made their way to Russia by way of Northern China in the mid 1600s via a gift from a Mongol khan to Romanov Tsar Michael I. The 64kgs of tea (called “cha-i” by Russians) brought back to Russia was used to treat Tsar Mikhaylovich for stomach aches, after which it  quickly established itself as the drink of the wealthy elites due to its scarcity and expense.

In 1728, the Kyakhta settlement (later city) was established which became the center of the Russian -Chinese tea trade. Through the Kyakhta Treaty of 1727, the Russians agreed to trade furs for Chinese tea. Still, however, tea was much too expensive for the average citizen to drink. It wasn’t until the Trans-Siberian Railway was completed in 1916 that tea was able to be easily transported throughout Russia, causing the price to drop and allowing for widespread availability for all. It was then that Russian tea culture began to take shape.  Russians generally prefer a dark tea which is brewed in a device called a Samovar. 

In 1900, factories “produced about 630,000 appliances a year” (Delaine, 2000). Tea can be taken with any meal at all times of day and symbolizes “warmth, comfort, and hospitality” (Delaine, 2000). Most Russians enjoy their tea with jam, honey, or sugar to sweeten it. Today, tea is considered to be the de facto national beverage of Russia. Beyond the cultural impact that tea had on the Russian Empire, it also greatly impacted the Russian economy by providing factory jobs for both tea and samovar production. In addition, the trade routes established with China strengthened cultural and economic ties between the two countries.

Works Cited

Apollo Tea House. “Tea History.” Russian Tea History. Apollo Tea House, n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2017. <http://www.apollotea.com/tea-articles/tea-history/15-russian-tea-history&gt;.
 
DeLaine, Linda. “Tea Time in Russia.” Russian Life. Russian Life, 1 Feb. 2000. Web. 22 Jan. 2017. <https://www.russianlife.com/stories/online-archive/tea-time-in-russia/&gt;.
 
Prokudin-Gorskii, Sergei Mikhailovich. Tea Weighing Station. Digital image. Library of Congress. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2017. <http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/empire/work.html&gt;.
 
Shumakov, Denis. “Teatips.info: History of Tea: Russian Tea History.” Russian Tea History: History of Tea:: Teatips.info. Tea Tips, n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2017. <http://teatips.ru/eng/?action=ShowArticle&id=302&gt;.
 
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6 thoughts on “Tea Time with the Russians”

  1. It’s pretty ironic that while Russia was so resistant to the West and Western culture/ideas/etc. they were trading with the Chinese. I didn’t know that China had such a big impact on Russian culture and lifestyle. This is a great read. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This post was very unique! I would have never thought to equate tea with Russia and yet here I am learning that not only is it the de facto national beverage but that putting jam in tea is an actual thing. This post led me to think about what other commodities Russia trades for, what they trade in exchange, and who they trade with. It would be an interesting study to do throughout Russian history to see what their biggest seller was and who their biggest foreign consumer was.

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  3. I never knew that Russia and China had such strong economic ties that began over something as small as tea. It’s interesting that it became something such an important status symbol and cultural beverage, especially coming from a foreign country. I also didn’t know that tea continues to play a large part in Russian culture today. This post was really unique and I really enjoyed it!

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  4. I have never heard about the impact that tea had in the Russian Empire. I think it is so fascinating that tea has held such prominence through history and cultures. This post surprised me with the depth that tea has influenced Russia. I will also need to try jam with my tea.

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  5. It is fascinating how simple commodities like tea or wine, can lead to industrialization in order to spread to the masses. This blog was very interesting because I did not know this was one of the first stepping stones in creating relations between Russia and China.

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