Privetsvuyu! Hello there! Today Valentina is happy to show her Russian samovars and to talk Russian tea. Valentina is a long way from her homeland. “Twenty four hour in air” and “Three change of plane”, to be more specific. Home, before New Zealand, was a territory called Krasnodar Krai beside the shores of the Black Sea – just to the west of the Greater Caucasus.
The city of Sochi, in Krasnodar, is one of Russia’s favourite tourist destinations and where the 2014 Winter Olympics were held. The region is known as the ‘breadbasket’ and Valentina assures me Krasnodar is “very beautiful place”. The climate is sub-tropical so even tea can be successfully grown here. Production of tea in Krasnodar has almost ceased today, since much of Russia’s tea now comes from Ceylon and India. From China Russia also imports Keemun tea, an ingredient in the Russian Caravan blend. However “Dilmah tea was one of first to come to market”, Valentina adds. “Everyone love Dilmah tea.”
Russia is not so famous for it’s tea growing as for it’s tea culture, it’s tea blends and it’s tea equipment: the samovar. The samovar provided Russians with hot tea from the 18th Century until the invention of the electric jug. Hot tea kept Russia warm.
The samovar was filled with water and “fire” went in a central chamber, and this heated the water. The tea was made very strong in a teapot which then spent it’s life perched on top of the samovar to keep warm. This arrangement ensured a cup of tea was available whenever needed and could be made to individual taste. You took your cup, filled it from the teapot, then topped up this strong tea concentrate with boiling hot water from the samovar. Tea was always taken black although many Russians will drink tea with milk nowadays.
Valentina explains that her parents sweetened their tea by biting into a sugar cube or by the addition of … strawberry jam?! “You go like this …” says Valentina as she takes a slurp of imaginary tea from her saucer and then bites into an imaginary cube of sugar. “Mmmm.” I am not convinced. The jam, if used, was dissolved in the hot tea. Russians took their tea flavoured with strawberry, cinnamon, citrus, camomile and raspberry leaf; all are popular.
When there was a shortage of tea, before perestroika, people used the tea leaves again and again. I assure Valentina that this same thrift was once practiced in New Zealand – although for different reasons.
It is always a pleasure to catch up with Valentina but she has work to do. Valentina and husband Graeme are the emergency co-ordinators at our local Elderly Persons’ Village – where there is seldom a dull moment.
Everything I have read about Russian tea culture convinces me of Russia’s great love for tea. However a quick Trip Advisor search lists an awful lot of coffee houses in Sochi. Interesting. No?
Finally I must report a Blend Failure. My attempt at a Russian tea blend, according to Valentina, was, “Not anything like Russian tea taste!”
“”Yes said Katya with a sigh; and than she put the lid on the samovar and looked at him, quite ready to burst out crying.’ – Leo Tolstoy. (From a collection of short stories by Tolstoy)