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Tea Brews Big Business in Russia

Blending the best from the east and west, the country’s 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 doesn’t mix the teas it buys. That’s 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, Oct. 24


SPIBA’s ongoing “Breakfast with the Director” series continues today, featuring Tomas Hajek, Managing Director of the Northwest Division at Danone Russia. Hajek will be discussing collaborations between businesses from different cultures. The meeting is at 9 a.m. at the Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel and all who wish to attend must confirm their participation by Oct. 23.


Get your gong on at “Sounds of the Universe,” a concert at the city planetarium this evening incorporating six different gongs to create relaxing songs that will transport you upwards into the stratosphere. Tickets are 700 rubles ($17).



Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop culture, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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