Russian Tea (чай)
Maybe you’d like to share some experiences ‘at tea’ when in the FSU. After-dinner чай is one of the most important social events you could share with a Russian or Ukrainian family. Its a rite of acceptance and passage.
For hours after the dinner dishes have been cleared away, Russian families will sit and drink tea as if it came from an endless samovar. Your first few times in their home may carry more of a ‘guest’ feeling and perhaps the vodka will show up more frequently.
But once you’ve been accepted as a welcome guest/new family member, it’s time for the vodka to take on less importance and the tea will come out to much more often.
Some Russian/Ukrainian ideas at tea:
- Some Ukrianians make a point of eating the slice of lemon (the whole thang) when the cup is empty.
- Russians like to have jam with tea. A small dessert spoonful of jam is placed on the tongue and then the tea is sipped slowly, washing the jam down with the tea. Very tasty!
- Do the same thing as above–use chocolate.
- Small breadcakes, tort (cake), or minature pretzels are taken with tea.
- In summer fruit is a popular accompaniment with tea.
- Caviar on bread is very popular.
- Cheese bits and sausages are a popular mid-afternoon tea snack.
- Crackers and English biscuits are tasty with Russian tea.
However served, Russian чай (tea) is a very important cultural and family event. Many offices stop work about 3pm for 15-20 minutes while чай is enjoyed. Afterwards everyone goes back to work.
When entertaining guests for dinner it would be unthinkable to fail to serve tea after dinner. This will be a time for western guys to ‘hold on to your patience’ as one of my daughters used to say as a child. We westerners just aren’t used to sitting around for 2 hours talking and drinking tea. If you get up to leave too soon, your hosts will easily be offended.
For occasions with guests likely a samovar will appear. It will heat water. No tea is inside. The tea is loose-leaf and is made as a super-strong compote in a small serving tea teapot. When the water is hot in the samovar, your hostess will pour about 1/3 cup of the strong tea into your cup. She will do that around the table, next hot water will be poured in your cup to dilute the tea compote. Add sugar and/or lemon and enjoy!
For those travelers who use the artificial sweetners common in the west, take your own supply along because such products are not very familiar to most Russian kitchens.