Tea with sugar!

Most people believe that Russians like vodka, but this isn’t necessarily the case. The beverage Russians truly enjoy is tea. At least according to a popular opinion survey conducted by Synovate Comcon, over 94 percent of Russians drink tea regularly.

Black tea is popular across all regions, age groups, as well as among all classes and genders. Green tea is preferred by young people in the 16-19 age group, as well as by women and people with higher education.

The number of people who prefer tea in tea bags versus loose leaf tea is also roughly the same - 49% and 52%, respectively.

The average Russian drinks three cups of tea a day. However, 10% of respondents said they drink six or more cups of tea a day. People in the 35-44 age range who live in cities with populations of 100,000 - 500,000 people drink more tea than anybody else. 10% of Russians of all ages don’t drink tea at all, and the majority of them are children and teenagers in the 10-19 age range.

It isn’t clear when tea first appeared in Russia. Some sources point to some time during Peter the Great’s reign, others suggest that it was brought here in the middle of the 16th century by Cossacks, while other still claim that Russians started to drink tea during the first half of the 17th century, when Michael I received a few cases of tea as a present from the Chinese. Regardless of how it got here, tea has found a home in Russia and became the national drink of choice. “Tea for Siberians is like potatoes for Irishmen,” one European traveller noted, “many people drink 40 cups a day!”

Although tea came to Russia from China, neither Chinese nor Japanese traditions found a home here along with it. There is a particular way Russians drink tea, and it is truly Russian in nature. For example, one of the most bizarre ways of drinking tea is “with a towel.” What does this mean? A giant samovar was put in the middle of the table, kicking off a tea drinking marathon that could go on for a very long time. The tea drinkers would chat and drink one cup of hot tea after another, periodically wiping tea and sweat from their faces with a towel that they would pre-emptively hang from their necks. Another tradition is drinking tea from a saucer. That is, people would pour tea from a cup into the saucer and would drink it from there as they nibble on sugar. People no longer drink tea “with a towel,” but Russia has maintained a lot of its own traditions when it comes to tea consumption.

In Russia, people usually drink tea after a meal, and sometimes separately from the meal altogether. Tea is served with baked goods or with sweets, so tea replaces dessert. Depending on individual tastes, people might add sugar, lemon or lemon juice to the tea, along with honey or jam. Jam is usually consumed from a spoon or with a piece of bread along with the tea, but sometimes people put it directly into the tea as well. Russians also sometimes put honey on white bread or put it into the tea directly, as a substitute for sugar. We also sometimes add milk or cream. Occasionally, brandy or rum is added as well.

In Russia, water for tea was traditionally boiled in a samovar, which could keep the water warm for a long time, as well as warm the teapot for improved extraction. The samovar would be put in the middle of the table, closer to the hostess, or on an additional small table next to the hostess for the convenience (no need to go anywhere if a guest needs more tea). This allowed the hosts to demonstrate their wealth, as heavier samovars meant the family had more money. However, samovars (which are now mostly electric samovars) have become extremely rare. Usually, people opt to boil water in metal or electric tea kettles. However, the production of samovars (including wooden samovars) continues in Russia. A lot of them are sold as souvenirs, which foreign tourists who come to Russia for a visit love to take back home with them.

For festive and formal occasions, porcelain tea sets with smaller cups (200-250 ml) are set on the table. In day-to-day life, people drink tea from any cup or glass that
happens to be around. Railways have maintained a tradition of serving tea
in a glass in a metal cup holder.

Tea plays such an important role in the lives of Russians that it has
become a part of Russian culture, including in painting and even
in our language in the form of many proverbs and popular sayings.
Tea has also been a popular subject among artists, including
Boris Kustodiev, Vasily Perov, Nikolai Bogdanov-Belsky and
Vasily Baksheev.

So far as Russian language is concerned, there are many
different ways tea is incorporated into everyday speech.
For example, if you enter a room and see that people are
drinking tea, you can say: “Tea and sugar!”. The expression,
in this case, is the equivalent of saying “bon appétit” to
people who are eating.

In the latter case, you will definitely be invited to have a cup
of tea, by the way. If not, then you can confidently say to
yourself: “they didn’t even offer me tea.” This expression is a
way of saying that you were treated to a cold, unwelcoming
 reception. But more likely than not, you will be invited to
have a cup of tea with a phrase like: “Have a cup,
forget your sorrows!”


Pictures by Anastasia Saifulina


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