How can you spot a Russian? Just look at how they drink tea! Are they drinking it without taking their spoon out of the cup? For sure they are Russians!
There is a famous old story about an Austrian military spotting a Russian intelligence man by the way he drank tea without taking a spoon out of it. A lot has changed since that time. One can assume that in the age of globalization all tea is equal. It mostly comes in a bag to be poured with hot water in a plastic cup. Teaspoons are replaced by plastic sticks, which are also getting out of use as the nutritionists warn us against putting sugar in the drinks.
However, there is still something special left in the Russian tea and the way of drinking it. While Japanese enjoy the taste and aroma of a single tea leaf and British sip the best tea sorts out of refined tea cups, Russians appreciate the company of their tea co-drinkers most of all. It does not matter where ‘the tea ceremony’ is taking place, what cups are being used and how sophisticated the tea itself is. The Russian tea is all about enjoying the company of people sitting together and their conversation (or silence) running slowly and smoothly.
Russians have been drinking tea for centuries and developed their own tea drinking habits. Traditionally, it was only black tea that was favored by Russians. Now the black tea is having tough times competing with coffee on the one hand and green tea on the other. Anyway, all teas in Russia are served and drunk hot. In former times, there was a ‘samovar’- a kind of kettle for boiling water and keeping it warm- and special glasses (not cups) used for serving hot tea. As china cups came to Russia much later than to other countries, Russians used to drink tea out of glasses with metal glass holders. The fine decorated holders were used both for esthetic and practical purposes preventing the palms from direct contact with hot tea. Those who travelled with the Russian Railways a couple of years ago could have been lucky to see and even use them. Today they have given way to plastic cups although some rare examples can still be found in grandmothers’ cupboards.
The traditional Russian tea is very simple without any additional flavors. At the same time, it never comes on its own. Tea is always served with something sweet like cookies, candies, chocolate or more traditional pancakes and pirozhki. A lot of Russians drink it with jam, honey or condensed milk. And here you cannot do without a spoon. What a pleasure it is to drop the spoon in a small bowl with jam, taste its sweet blending with tea on your tongue and after that put the spoon back in the glass. If you have never tried it, you will not understand that Russian intelligence man…
Drinking tea in Russia has an important social meaning. It is a part of many social activities and an indicator of personal attitudes. Every guest will be involved in tea drinking, which is a sign of hospitality. But if you are offered the tea from yesterday, it means the Russians want to get rid of you. If the family members stop having tea together, there must be something wrong in their relationships. Tea times are one of the rare opportunities to openly talk to each other. A tea conversation usually starts with personal issues and develops to more general ones like the sense of life and the existence of God. The more abstract the topic, the better. Indeed, this is the purpose of drinking tea- to forget about everyday and to enjoy the harmony of communication. ‘We are about to reach the endless harmony, we are about to drink tea’ as a song of the Russian band ’Aquarium’ goes.