Tea is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world. It has been a part of the everyday diet of humans for over 5,000 years. It has been very popular in Europe for centuries, though one European country, Russia, embraced it years later. Despite the late adoption, Russia has managed to make tea its own, using a steeping and diluting method that is very unique.
Origins of Tea in Russia
Unlike other European countries, Russia was slow to catch on to tea. Tea did not become a part of the drinking culture in Russia until the early 17th century, when Russian czars began importing small amounts from China. Back then, tea was only for the elite in society. It wasn't until almost 200 years later, in the mid-19th century, that a trade deal was struck with China, making tea readily available to everyone.
Zavarka is a tea concentrate that is later diluted with water in order to make Russian tea. The zavarka is made with boiling hot water and loose tea leaves that are steeped to make a powerful base for tea. The types of tea leaves used vary depending on the recipe used, but they most often include black teas, Ceylon teas and green tea. The zavarka itself is not drinkable until diluted. Trying to drink it undiluted can cause headaches, migraines, increased heartbeat, sweats and more. In fact, zavarka is so strong, drinking too much of it can cause a heart attack.
The samovar is a metal container that holds hot water in it. It has a small spigot on it where the hot water can be dispensed into a cup containing the zavarka tea concentrate. Though hot water from a kettle or pot can also be used to dilute the zavarka and make Russian tea, the samovar is the ornate and traditional way of doing the same thing. If you wish to hold a Russian tea ceremony, a samovar is a part of the ceremony.
Though recipes vary, a very straightforward version of Russian tea would begin with five teaspoons of black or green tea in a pot. Pour one cup of boiling water over the tea leaves and let steep until all the tea leaves sink to the bottom. Strain the leaves and discard them. Pour one teaspoon of this zavarka concentrate into a teacup, mixing with 10 teaspoons of boiling water, preferably from a samovar, if available. You can add more zavarka and water, but make sure you stick to the 1:10 ratio to properly dilute. Add sugar, honey, jams, jellies, oranges or black cherries as desired for sweetness and flavor.