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.


4 thoughts on “Russian Tea (чай)

  1. Pingback: Blackberry Jam | Madhupa Maypop

  2. If you’re a true-born Englishman, you will know all about a nice cup of tea after a meal, and also the sitting around for hours and chatting over tea. You will share the same tea culture as the FSU. You will note that the most popular brand of tea is unknown to you, yet attributed to a London address.

    But there is one big exception. No milk! You will not find milk offered with tea. Indeed, the lemon would make it curdle.

    You can go native and take it black with lemon, but it’s ok if you don’t want to. In a cafe, you can explain you are crazy foreigner and ask for milk, no lemon.

    If you are staying with family/friends, you will be able to introduce milk into the process but beware. It will be that yucky UHT stuff you get on the (European) continent, unless you’re in a village in the backwoods, in which case it may come in a jug straight from the cow outside the back door !


  3. Pingback: A taste of Russia with Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel « The Mendeleyev Journal

  4. Pingback: Jam & Tea A Love Affair | LunaGrown Fine Gourmet JamLunaGrown Fine Gourmet Jam

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s