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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.





 


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Monday, Oct. 20


Amateur pictures from World War I are on display for only one more day at Rosphotos exhibition On Both Sides, chronicling the conflict through the eyes of observers on both sides of the trenches. The price of entrance to the exhibition is 100 rubles ($2.50).



Tuesday, Oct. 21


The Environment, Health and Safety Committee of AmCham convenes this morning at 9 a.m. in the organizations office.


Take the chance to pick the brains of Dmitry V. Krivenok, the deputy director of the Economic Development Agency of the Leningrad region, and Mikhail D. Sergeev, the head of the Investment Projects Department, during the meeting with them this morning hosted by SPIBA. RSVP for the event by emailing office@spiba.ru before Oct. 17 if you wish to attend.


Improve your English at Interactive English, the British Book Centers series of lessons on vocabulary and grammar in an informal atmosphere. Starting at 6 p.m., each month draws attention to different topics in English, with the topic for this months lessons being visual arts.



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