How do Russians drink tea? And why!

Did you know Russian people like tea more than vodka? Big surprise, right? They drink tea with lemon and/or milk, they can add sugar or jam. Russians drink tea daily, sometimes around-the-clock, everywhere - and on any occasion. 

1. Russians love drinking their tea - always and everywhere

All nations have their own rules on when it's an appropriate time for particular drinks. Americans love their coffee. British people are famous for having tea at 5 o'clock. Italians don't drink cappuccinos after 12 pm. Well, in Russia, people drink tea in the morning, afternoon or evening, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, sometimes as a snack and in the middle of the night. You name it - and there is a reason to have tea at that time on that occasion. 

Here are some useful phrases you might hear connected to drinking tea in Russia:

  • Заходи на чай - come over for tea,
  • Чаёвничать - the process of drinking tea (more about conversations, then tea),
  • Что-то к чаю - something to eat while drinking tea (usually sweet).
  • Что я могу принести к чаю? What can I bring for tea?

But usually, the tradition of drinking tea in Russia is really not about drinking tea. Are you surprised? Well, the whole idea of drinking tea is usually about sharing a conversation, making a connection, and just having a good time. 

2.  Drinking tea is a good way to save money in Russia. 

When you go to a restaurant in Russia, you will see that most people order tea with their meal. It is part of the habit of drinking tea all the time, but also it is to save money. You see, in America, for example, you get water for free when you go to a restaurant. But in Russia, you have to pay for water. So to save money, you order one tea pot of tea and keep asking for refills of hot water. You see - hot water is free in Russia. So instead of paying for many many many tea pots of tea, you just pay for one and keep adding water. Don't even thank me. I know, I just saved you thousands of Rubles (well, depending on how long you are planning to stay in Russia). 

3. Russian people don't just drink tea, there has to be food to go with it. 

So what do Russian people usually eat with tea? Cookies, chocolate, pastries, cakes, or even just some jam. But never something really expensive, expensive things are left for celebrations. 

Here is some useful vocabulary to go with it:

  • Варенье -  jam
  • Пирог - pie
  • Печенье - cookies

4. Black tea is the most traditional tea in Russia. 

After years of hunger, war, and deficit, Russians, with their strong generations and historical memory, loved to have strong tea and wouldn’t spare the leaves. In actual fact, most didn’t even have real tea leaves - only some kind of tea “dust” that they covered with boiling water and waited for at least five minutes until the tea became literally black!

Russians also love sugar in their tea. In past times, it was necessary - just to make it more high-calorie. In Soviet times, when there was a total deficit of sweet things, people used to drink tea while biting sugar cubes. And even now, if a Russian sees a sugar cube, his fingers will automatically grab a piece. 
 
But today when you go out, there are special tea places called Чайная. And there you will find literally hundreds and hundreds of different types of tea. So no deficit now. Maybe the opposite - too many options sometimes. 
 
Here is some useful vocabulary that you might need:
 
  • Сколько ложек сахара? How many teaspoons of sugar?
  • Сколько кубиков сахара? How many cubes of sugar?
  • Какой Вам чай? What kind of tea would you like?
  • Улун - oolong
  • Молочный улун - milk oolong 
  • Жасминовый - Jasmine
  • Чай с чабрецом - thyme tea
  • Мятный чай - mint tea
 

5. There are special teapots and tea cups.

 
A long time ago people used Samovar to drink tea. Самовар is the heated metal container traditionally used to heat and boil water in Russia. Today, no one really uses a samovar on a daily basis like they used to. And if some have a samovar at home, it’s usually considered an exotic thing and is probably only used once a year.
 
Nowadays we use чайник - a teapot to boil the hot water in. And заварник - a little teapot where you brew  the leaves to get заварка (brewed tea). We use regular cups (кружка).
 
 
If it's a special event, then porcelain cups come out (фарфоровая чашка)  and usually it comes with a saucer (блюдце). Long time ago the tradition was to drink from the saucer instead of the cup. It helped the tea to cool off. But nowadays people don't do that. Maybe only sometimes kids might drink from the saucer (из блюдца) to have their tea cooler. 
 
 

The first glass cup was produced in Russia in the seventeenth century, and soon after, the cup holder (подстаканник) was invented. As a tool created to save your fingers while holding a hot drink in a glass cup, the podstakannik was first made from wood and later from metal. It became a fashionable accessory, and men of high society preferred drinking the tea this way only. 

 

In Soviet times, the materials used were cheaper, and ‘tea in podstakannik’ became a mass-market option. Nowadays, we still have the opportunity to drink tea like this; all you have to do is take a train to any destination within the country and ask for tea during your train ride. 

6. Tea is considered to be a "magic drink"

Many Russians believe in the magical treatment potential of tea. When one catches a cold, a Russian’s advice is to drink more tea with honey and lemon (Actually, Russians just love tea with lemon). 

If you have a fever, raspberry jam mixed in with tea is believed to bring the temperature down! (We bet you don’t want to argue with a Russian grandma (бабушка) about this ‘fact’!).

Russians also like adding herbs into their tea. Some of them, they also preserve during summer - dry mint, lemon balm and rosebay berries. Russians like their taste and believe that all of them are good for health.

Finally, but most importantly, drinking tea is a time to take a break, time to think and relax - so it’s really healthy in this instance. And by the way, Russians living abroad do miss these tea traditions, they lament missing the calm tea-drinking time and the people who share this time with you.

 7. Drinking tea is about conversations, not so much about tea. 

The main reason why Russian like drinking tea so much is probably because of the conversations they have during this process. These talks can last for hours and go into deep philosophical discussions. It’s thought that drinking tea with someone can bring you closer. It’s almost an intimate process that can often lead to a meaningful and soulful conversation and sometimes long-lasting friendships.

 

That is it for today, I hope you enjoyed learning about Russian traditions about drinking tea. 

 

 

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