Food in Russia: what's hot in a cold country
One day I was procrastinating in the internet and found this quiz at Buzzfeed. Turned out, they DID know what tea I prefer, namely “no milk, with sugar”. Yep, that’s the tea I drink most often. But I was surprised that people in the comments didn’t approve of that kinda tea at all. Here are some quotes:
“Am I the only one who thinks tea with sugar is blasphemy…”
“Sugar?! In my tea?! I think not.”
“No milk?! What kind of a heathen do you take me for?!”
“No milk AND no sugar? NO MILK?! What kind of animal are you making me out to be? Black tea!? Fuck you BuzzFeed.”
Listen up, sweeties. There are a lot of teas in the world, and depending on the type of tea and also a tradition of a certain cultures, there are many, many ways to drink them. If you like milk and no sugar in your tea – it’s fine. Someone may like salt, tsampa and yak butter, and that’s ok, too.
For example, in Russia the most popular way of drinking tea would probably be a black (Indian or Sri Lankan) tea brewed with zavarka method, with sugar added (no milk). Some people skip the sugar, others may add lemon, yet others would drink a cuppa brewed with a teabag. Sure, some people may prefer green tea or pu-erh, or may be even flavored tea or fully herbal ones. Yet zavarka tea with sugar would be the most common way, something you’ll probably be offered when you come to visit your friend. To understand why, you need to know how and when Russians drink tea.
In Russia, tea may be served with pretty much any meal. Breakfast most likely comes with tea (although some people may prefer coffee as it’s more stimulating). Lunch, even if it’s a soup, can also be eaten with tea. Dinner is tea time! And of course, tea is perfect for snacks, sweet as well as savory ones. You can drink tea on its own, too – it’s not uncommn for people to fill their big ass cups with tea and take them to their desks, sipping the tea while working on their computers. So as you see, tea is a beverage Russians drink with everything, not something that requires certain obligatory foods to accompany it.
Kids eating breakfast at school – a hot dog, pasta, cucumber and, of course, tea (via)
There are many possible explaination of why it’s not that common for Russians to add milk to their teas. May be it’s the simple way – no need to have milk around (which doesn’t last as long as sugar and is not as portable). May be it’s drinking tea with many different meals, including, for example, pickled food, and milk doesn’t really go well with them. It’s also possible that Russians like to observe golden-brown color of their teas (hence the famous glasses). And it’s easier to control the taste by the color of the brew, so if someone wants a stronger tea, they add more zavarka. I don’t really know. Point is, adding milk to tea isn’t super-common.
And let me tell you this: sometimes, it’s very tasty to eat something salty and drink sweetened tea. For example, a very common Russian breakfast would be black tea with sugar and 2 open-faced sandwiches (bread, butter and cheese/ham/salami/cured red fish). In this cases, your tea should be sweet – it’s better that way!
If a Russian invited you for tea, it most likely means not only tea itself, but some treats (cookies, candies, chocolate, cake…) and may be even some open sandwiches. It is also common to drink tea when the dessert is served (e.g. in the end of the big meal on New Year or birthday party). It’s your choice to add sugar or skip it, if you drink your tea with something sweet.
Another thing about Russian tea habit is that people generally prefer loose leaf teas. Sure, they may use teabags on the go or in the office, it’s convenient. But if they have a choice, they’ll probably stick to loose leaf tea, and offering it to a guest would be considered good host manners. Some people like my dad even despise teabags, calling them “tampons”.
Finally, there is a big community of tea gourmands in Russia, the ones enjoying teas from different cultures, most likely Chinese and Japanese (Da Hong Pao, Pu Erh, Tie Guan Yin…). These guys would have all the right equipment – an authentic teaset, a kettle, an assortment of various teas and so on. They can tell you a story behind each tea and describe them like a sommelier would describe wine. Sometimes they hang out in the tea shops they own or work in, so definitely seek them if it’s your kinda thing.
Russian rapper told a story how he ditched booze and weed and got hooked on teas instead:
Have you tried sweet tea with something savory? How do you like your tea?