Russian Tea Drinking Tradition

by Elena Popec 7. September 2011 09:32

Russian tea drinking tradition, along with some other Russian customs, has long been a hallmark of the country. Nevertheless, to describe the attributes of Russian tea drinking: samovar (meaning "self-boiler" in Russian), loose leaf black tea, pancakes, jam, cubed sugar, sliced lemon, cups in cup holders, porcelain set… Unfortunately, very few people drink tea in accordance with this attributes, because almost no one these days uses a samovar.

This old Russian tea drinking tradition becomes history, but still lives and breathes in Russia and around the world where Russian emigrants make their homes. Russian literature often invokes the samovar to symbolize Russian hospitality. Gathering around the table by a samovar with family and friends evokes a sense of cosines and comfort, which is an important element in our busy lives. Let me just try to formulate some of the characteristics of tea drinking, which can be classified as specifically Russian.

A real Russian tea party requires a porcelain tea set; a classical Russian tea set is "Cobalt net" of the Imperial Lomonosov’s Porcelain Manufactory. These sets are often sold in duty free shops at the international airports of Russia and in numerous souvenir shops. Contrary to popular opinion, tea glasses even in the most exclusive holders are not the most accurate representation of the Russian tea drinking tradition. Since the 18th century, people who understood the sense in life and in tea-drinking, tried to get the porcelain set.

A very specific feature of Russian tea-drinking is samovar, a vessel with boiling water. In Russian tradition, tea leaves brewed in the porcelain pot, which is placed on the top of the samovar keeping the brew hot. In most major tea drinking cultures, Chinese, Japanese and English, tea leaves steep, a brew is poured in a cup and drunk. In Russia, a brew is diluted with hot water directly in a cup, that’s why besides the standard tea set, tea party in Russia involves a samovar with boiling water.

Another important part of Russian tea-drinking tradition is a simple and obvious lemon, cut in thin slices, not wedges, since circles look beautiful on a plate and in a cup. In fact, the whole world believes that tea with lemon is a Russian invention, often called "Russian tea". 

However, the most important feature of a Russian tea party is tea itself. Of course, it should be black tea. Historically, it was Chinese tea, such as Keemun or a blend based on it "Russian Caravan" or “Russian Samovar”. Chinese tea was drunk in Russia for three centuries, and only in the 20th century adjusted traditionally established tea preferences. Nowadays, most Russians prefer a rich aroma and strong taste of Ceylon tea over subtle taste of Chinese teas. Often, both teas are served at the party, Chinese in respect to century’s old tradition and Ceylon in respect to modern tea taste.

When at the table served with samovar full of boiling water, porcelain tea set, two teapots (with Chinese and Ceylon tea), a plate with a stack of pancakes, a few fresh baked pies (with apples, cherries, cheese, cabbage and all sorts of fillings…), several kinds of jam (strawberry, cherry, blueberry, lingoberry, cloudberry, raspberry…), honey, condensed sweet milk, sliced lemon and cubed sugar, one will understand what is a true Russian made happiness. Laughing

Japanese Tea Ceremony and Zen Buddhism Are Inseparable

by Elena Popec 20. August 2011 19:12

“Chanoyu should be made with the heart,
Not with the hand.
Make it without making it,
In the stillness of your mind.”

- Hamamoto Soshun -

Japanese tea ceremony is a central point of the concept of attitude, which the Japanese call “cha-no-yu”. Being the basis of the whole aesthetic doctrine itself “chanoyu” roots in Zen Buddhism. Perhaps, the initial period of a tea ceremony in Japan was religious in nature.


No one knows exactly when tea attained Japan. For centuries, Buddhist monks included tea in their spiritual practice to stay awake during meditation. Tea makes the mind fresh and alert, not intoxicated. Perhaps, the monks were the first who brought it to Japan. Natural tea ceremonies are practiced in Zen Buddhist monasteries, stands apart from the art, which is now in fashion.


Zen and tea ceremonies combine the constant striving for simplification. Zen eliminates everything that is unnecessary on the way to acknowledgement of ultimate reality; tea ceremonies manifest simplicity in real life and in the tearoom. Tea ceremonies celebrate aestheticism of primitive purity, finds perfection in the imperfect, embraces the discordance in order to achieve concordance… The idea is unifying with nature. Tea ceremonies embody its ideal in a small room, which however, decorated and furnished tastefully. Zen also seeks to strip off all the husks of artificiality, which humanity used to disguise itself to seem perfect. 

Tea ceremonies symbolize the simplification in the tea room built, for example, under an old pine tree as a part of nature, rather than creation of human hands. The key principle of the ceremony is the perfect obedience of the original idea of eliminating the unnecessary.

Tea ceremonies are closely related to Zen, not only in its practical development, but mainly in the preservation of the spirit in which it is impregnated. It’s more than an elaborated ritual. There are four basic principles of the philosophy of tea: harmony, respect, purity and tranquility (wa, kei, sei, jaku).They had become the embodiment of tea ceremony as a whole procedure:  its meaning, spirit and enthusiasm, as well as its separate components, down to the smallest detail. Each of the four principles can be in the abstract and philosophical sense, as well as in the concrete and practical.

Harmony – tea ceremony is the way of leading oneself into harmony with nature;


Respect – is a polite, cordial relationship with others;


Purity – is purity of the mind, heart and intentions. This state of purity can be reached through five senses: hearing , when hearing the sound of water; sense of sight, when see the beauty of flowers; sense of touch, when touching the utensils; sense of smell when smelling the fragrance of the flowers and sense of taste when sipping tea.


Tranquility – is the apogee of all three preceding principles. Tranquility is a harmony of the moment, acceptance of the surrounding, respect for people and things with purity of intentions, peace of mind and appreciation of nature.


From the perspective of Zen Buddhism, the Japanese tea ceremony can be viewed as a way to achieve satori - enlightenment associated with awareness of the triviality and unimportance of worldly vanity.

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Japanese culture

History Of Tea

by Steven Popec 8. February 2010 20:56

There is no place on Earth where you cannot find a love to tea and its history. This drink is second by popularity only after water. Homeland of Tea is South-West China and adjacent areas of Upper Burma and North Vietnam.
 
Interestingly, the word tea has come to East Europe through the Turkic languages from North Chinese “cha”, while the source of the name in Western Europe was the South Chinese “te”. There is no way to establish the exact time of appearance of the drink in different regions.
 
The first mention of tea dates back to ancient times. How wild tea was discovered, tell legends of China, India and Japan. One of them, there was tea in the time of creation of Heaven and Earth, it is associated with the name of Sovereign Sun Yan Di. On the other Southern Chinese emperor Chen Nung (III millennium BC) once tried the drink, which accidentally turned out to be tea leaves, accidentally fell into boiling water. The drink was so fragrant and delicious that the Emperor ordered to collect and preserve these leaves and issued a decree on the application of his nationwide.

Historical monuments confirm that tea was known in China in the Three Kingdoms period (220 - 280 years). The growing of tea as a culture plant refers to the year 350. Hindus believe that the tea bush was accidentally discovered by Prince Badhidharma while traveling to Southern China. According to Japanese legend, a tea bush grew in the place where prince Daruma’s eyelids fell after he cut them off, in order not to fall asleep during meditation. From this bush Daruma’s followers gathered leaves and made refreshing drink.
 
In 1763 a Swedish navigator brought the famous naturalist Charles Linneyu from China living tea bush. Scientist, being confident in the uniqueness of this plant, gave tea its name classification thea sineusis – Chinese tea. In the XIX century in the Indian province of Assam, Burma and Laos were discovered tea trees. Botanist had to admit that the tea has a different kind, which was given the title of thea assamica - Assamese tea.

Chinese philosophers said that tea is better than wine, because it can strengthen and invigorates the human soul.  It does not cause intoxication, it is better than water because tea does not transmit infection.
 
At first, tea was used only by rulers and clerics as curative drink, that eliminates fatigue, strengthens force and vision, or in the composition of ointments. The use tea as a drink in its homeland began in the 5th century. The value of tea was very high - emperors awarded their dignitary in the promotion. In the 6th century, tea was a favorite beverage of nobility, by in the 10th century, tea had become the national drink of China and, consequently, the subject of trade.
In Europe, tea was brought in the 16th – 18th centuries, by Portuguese and Dutch. Rooted in the Netherlands, the use of the drink has become a tradition of afternoon tea drinking, and spread across the Atlantic to New Amsterdam.

In 1664 merchants of the English East India Company brought as a gift to the King, two pounds of tea. The gift was accepted, the drink was appreciated, and a triumphal procession of tea began. At first as a luxury item available to the rich and the nobility, but much later - as the traditional drink of broad segments of society. Tea became available to citizens only in the late XVIII century, after reducing the tax on tea, but for most was still too expensive.
 
In 1793, Lord McCartney transported the seeds of Chinese tea to India in the Botanical Garden to explore and cultivate. India, whereas was the former colony of the British Empire, actively developing the production of tea. In 1860 it was sold for around 2 tons. The question of the rate of transport has arisen.
By boundless sea bear tea clipper - high-speed sailboats with valuable cargo. Tea race become a tradition with promise of winning trophy. Known as the case when three-clippers - "Ariel", "Taping", and "Serika" - were all synchronous distance 25,744 km in length and finished along the harbor.
 
In Java, Sumatra, Vietnam tea begin to grow in the first half of the 19th century, in the second half - in Africa and South America, in the early twentieth century - in northern Italy and southern Switzerland. At present, breeding of tea has developed in Australia.
 
The official history of tea in Russia started in 1638, when the Mongol ruler of the Altyn-Khan sent a gift of 72kg of a strange dry leaf to the king, Mikhail Fedorovich. The first acquaintance with tea happened much earlier in 1269 because of the Russian Diocese being located in Beijing.  Russian people visited China for a variety of reasons, Therefore they had exposed to way of life there and had been well aware of tea. Russian traders dealing with Chinese merchants were introduced to tea ceremonies by direct route from Beijing to Moscow. Tea came much later - in 1665, brought by ambassador Perfiliev. In the 1679 Russia develops the agreement with China regarding the permanent supply of tea. Until the end of 18th century, tea was sold mainly in Moscow. From Moscow, the fashion for tea began to spread throughout Russia.

In 1874, imported from Paris, the tea bush was planted in Nikitsky Botanical Garden in Crimea. However, the tea bush did not survived there. Then cuttings were brought to Georgia, where they acclimatized, well developed, and subsequently gave the seeds. Since then, Georgian tea was a delight not only in Georgia and Russia, but also in many other countries. In 1900, small estates have been cultivated in Azerbaijan. In 1936 in the Krasnodar region of Russia, they cultivated three teas, “Georgian”, “Azeri” and “Krasnodarsky”.

To date, the cultivation and production of tea, engaged in Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Malawi, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Japan, Australia. In doing so, they had been recognized by the major producers - China, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Kenya. Lastly, in Europe (United Kingdom, Hungary, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, France) the widespread of tea packing companies developed as proprietary blenders of tea and tisanes.

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