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Tea Brews Big Business in Russia

Blending the best from the east and west, the countrys tea boutiques are on the rise.

Published: May 28, 2014 (Issue # 1813)



  • According to Igor Sverchkov, Russians are now spoilt for choice when it comes to drinking tea.
    Photo: Wabke Waaijer

The true mark of Russian hospitality is being offered a cup of tea. In fact, the popular drink can be dated back to the 17th century, with the first Romanov tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich being a fan of Chinese tea.

Back then, tea entered Russia via the Great Tea Road with a route through Siberia. However, because of the long and difficult journey, tea was only affordable for the upper class and it was only after the Trans-Siberia railway was built that tea became readily available for all.

In Russia, people tend to drink tea and coffee all day long. In many other countries like England and Italy, they have a much more specific tea or coffee culture, said Igor Sverchkov, a tea specialist and product manager of the tea boutique chain Untsiya.

According to him, the tea or coffee preference in a country is influenced by its colonial past. Since Russia did not have any colonies and is situated between China and Europe, they took the best of both sides, importing tea from the east and coffee from the west.

Tea and coffee are both widely drunk in Russia. Supermarkets offer a wide range of different teas as do boutique stores like Untsiya. Russians are spoiled for choice when it comes to tea, said Sverchkov. People have the opportunity to try all sorts of different types of tea in this country.

Untsiya first opened its tea boutique in St. Petersburg in 2002, rapidly growing and expanding to Moscow. Nowadays they have more than 100 shops throughout Russia. Their shops showcase a broad assortment of teas from China, Sri Lanka, India, Taiwan, Japan, Germany, South Africa, Rwanda and Kenya.

We sell teas characteristic of each country but also some less famous tea types, says Sverchkov. Our approach is creative. We work with tea factories that want to try something new and offer something extraordinary. Therefore, we have suppliers who make some types of tea exclusively for us.

Despite there only being two different tea plant varieties, Camellia Sinensis and Camellia Assamica, it is possible to produce endless variations in tea by varying the degree of oxidation often referred to as fermentation. But there are many other aspects of the tea production process that strongly influence the final taste. Due to the complex, heterogenic structure of a tea plant, the part of the leaf used is important; whether it be the upper part or the lower part, the younger or the older leaves used. For example, the upper part of the plant is responsible for a creating a strong aroma, with more caffeine and theine, whereas the bigger and older leaves contain more vitamins.

According to Sverchkov, it is also difficult to say which kind of tea is healthier because the effects of tea vary from person to person. Also, the taste of the same type of tea can differ depending on the week it has been gathered, he said. If it rained before the harvest, you can notice that in the flavor. In India, factories sell their tea at a weekly auction. Some factories produce about 100 kilograms of unique, premium-level tea each week so many tea companies simply buy their tea from a few different factories and mix them all up afterwards. However, as Sverchkov explained, every harvest has its own characteristics and by mixing them, the unique taste of each harvest gets lost. Therefore in order to save the flavor of each individual harvest, Untsiya doesnt mix the teas it buys. Thats why the same tea may have a slightly different taste as it depends on what week the tea was bought.

As well as selling unblended tea, Untsiya also offers blended tea which they import from Germany, the homeland of tea blending. Their blended tea assortment includes herbal and fruit teas resembling beverages like rooibos and South American mate. Some teas are better to drink in summer than others, says Sverchkov. In Russia, black tea is popular during the whole year. However, during summer we sell more green tea, rooibos and mate because they are more refreshing.

Another refreshing way to drink tea is with lemon, which, according to Sverchkov, is how Russia also contributed to modern tea culture. By putting two exotic products together, they were the first who drank tea with lemon, he said.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Aug. 29


Park Pobedy will feature the sights and sounds of the world outside of Russia during the Open Art International Festival today. Taste foreign cuisine, learn how to make tea like the Chinese or relax in a hammock during the free event. Although entrance is free, you must register beforehand if you wish to attend.



Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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