Tea Time Traditions

If you are cold, tea will warm you.
If you are too heated, tea will cool you.
If you are too depressed, tea will cheer you.
If you are too exhausted, tea will calm you!
-William Gladstone

As legend has it, in 2737 B.C. as the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was boiling water,   some leaves from a Camellia sinensis plant floated in the pot. The emperor drank the brew and declared it gave one “vigor of body, contentment of mind, and determination of purpose.”

The emperor must have been a man of vision. Today, the potion he accidentally brewed that day- is  second only to water in worldwide consumption.

Black, Green and Oolong

Mainly, Tea comes in black, green and oolong varieties, all produced from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, a white-flowered evergreen. The method of processing the leaf distinguishes the three types. The traditional method of producing black tea begins with drying, followed by rolling and fermenting and then again drying. Green tea, by contrast, is made by heating the leaves first to prevent the fermentation that makes black tea. Finally, the leaves are rolled and dried. Oolong tea is first allowed to ferment partially, to a state between that of black and green tea.

Lastly, the leaves are stirred in heated pans, rolled and dried. Scented teas are made from black tea, with the scent sprayed on. They are flavored with peach, vanilla, cherry, among others. The spiced teas, on the other hand, usually contain actual pieces of spices–cinnamon or nutmeg, orange, lemon peel, or any of the many flavors available today.

RCH musings: So, next time you have a cup of tea, preferably with some Russian Cookie House “made-for-tea” cookie, relax, and remember that not all teas are made equal…

Re-written/condensed from Wikipedia

Tea the Chinese Way

Like so many things, tea was first introduced into common global knowledge by the Chinese and it is no wonder then that it has always played an important role in the culture’s social fabric. The Chinese tea ceremony is a cultural activity involving intricate ways of preparation and presentation of tea, herein differing greatly from the way Western culture has treated the tasty herb.

One reason for that is that Taoism has been a strong influence in the development of the ceremony with its emphasis on the harmony of nature and man While the art of drinking and serving tea has long inspired artists and intellectuals , the ritual of preparing and serving tea has held a special place in the hearts and minds of all Chinese, from the aristocracy to the common people.

Today, after a hibernation of sorts, the ceremonies are being revived in China’s new fast-paced culture, continuing the long tradition of the uniquely Chinese “way of tea” At its most basic, the Chinese tea ceremony emphasizes the tea itself. It focuses on what the tea tastes like, smells like, and how one tea compares to another. Every step taken during the ceremony is meant to be a sensory exploration and appreciation.

RCH musings: Try one of Russian Cookie House’ special Tea Biscuits for a bit of harmony after a hectic day……

Re-written/condensed from Wikipedia

“Of High Tea” and “Low Tea”

The British won’t like to hear this, but afternoon tea may have been started by the French, of all people.  After all, tea had arrived in Paris in 1636 (22 years before it appeared in England!) and quickly became popular among the aristocracy. According to Madame de Sévigné (1626 to 1696), famous for her letters on life in 17th Century France,   “…the Princesse de Tarente … takes 12 cups of tea every day…” The Lady also shed light on how milk came into play: ..” “Madame de la Sablière took her tea with milk, because it was to her taste.” The English, for once,  delighted in this “French touch” and immediately adopted it, hijacking much of the “tea story” in the process.

The French, meanwhile, concentrated on wine, it appears. Calling afternoon tea “High Tea”, is a misnomer, pure and simple.  People refer to afternoon tea as high tea because it sounds regal, when” high tea”, is actually dinner!  Many hotels and tea rooms continue to misunderstand and offer tidbits on delicate china when they offer a “high tea.” Afternoon tea, believe it or not, is also called “low tea” because it was usually taken in a sitting room from low tables.

There are three basic types of Afternoon, or Low Tea:

Cream Tea – Tea, scones, jam and cream (and we suggest our Linzer Torte)

Light Tea – Tea, scones and sweets (and we suggest our Vienna Fingers)

Full Tea – Tea, savories, scones, sweets and dessert (and we suggest our Bavarian Apple Strudel)

According to one legend, Queen Victoria’s (1819-1901) lady-in-waiting, Anna Maria Stanhope (1783-1857), known as the Duchess of Bedford, is credited as the creator of afternoon teatime. Every day at about four o’clock in the afternoon, the lady was said to have been struck by the need for “merienda”. The Duchess then had her servants make her a pot of tea and a few tidbits. She later is said to have invited friends to join her for an additional afternoon meal at five o’clock in her rooms at Belvoir Castle in the British countryside. The menu centered around small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, assorted sweets, and, of course, tea.

This practice proved so popular that the Duchess continued it when she returned to London, sending cards to her friends asking them to join her for “tea and walking” The idea of inviting friends to come for tea in the afternoon was quickly picked up by other social hostesses and the rest is history.

RCH musings: We must admit that we find it hard that the practice could have taken hold in our less moderate climate but you don’t have to walk to drink tea! Sit down in your favorite chair, have a cup of Earl Grey with a canister of our assorted Minis, pick up a British mystery novel and do a bit of time travel…..

Re-written/condensed from Wikipedia

The Japanese “Way of Tea”

Tea was introduced to Japan in the 9th century by a Buddhist monk from China, where it had already been known for  a long time.

The custom of drinking tea for medicinal, and later for pleasurable reasons, had been widespread throughout China. In the early 9th century, Chinese author Lu Yu wrote the Ch’a Ching, a treatise on tea, focussing on its cultivation and preparation. Lu Yu’s life had been influenced by Buddhism, particularly the school which would become known in Japan as Zen, and his ideas would have a strong influence in the development of the Japanese tea ceremony. In the 12th century, a new form of green tea, matcha, was introduced in Japan.

This powdered green tea, which derives from the same plant as black tea but is unfermented, was first used in religious rituals in Buddhist monasteries. By the 13th century, samurai warriors had begun preparing and drinking matcha, and the foundations of the tea ceremony were laid with its emphasis on wabi, meaning quiet refinement or moderation. In time, this particularly Japanese way of ritualized drinking of tea had in fact become a meditative practice that extolled the virtues of Zen Buddhism as the source of an aesthetic concept that eventually  spread  throughout all manifestations of Japanese culture.

By the 16th century, tea drinking had spread to all levels of society in Japan. Since a  serious tea practitioner must be familiar with the production and types of tea, with kimono, calligraphy, flower arranging, ceramics, incense and a wide range of other disciplines and traditional arts in addition to his or her school’s tea practices, the study of tea ceremony takes many years and often lasts a lifetime.

Even to participate as a guest in a formal tea ceremony requires knowledge of the prescribed gestures and phrases expected of guests, the proper way to take tea and sweets, and general deportment in the tea room. The traditional principles set forward — harmony, respect, purity, and tranquillity — are still central to tea ceremony today.

RCH musings; Guess what? Russian Cookie House has Matcha Green Tea Biscuits!

Re-written/condensed from Wikipedia, picture courtesy of Stephane D’Alu at http://www.alux-studio.com/sdalu/

Tea Time in Russia

Tea originated in China, in the third century BC, or so they say. No surprise then that it eventually arrived in Russia in the mid-1600s via the Chinese trade routes,   quickly appealing to the Russian life-style.

The trade route between China and Russia was treacherous and long, 11,000 miles and taking 16 months, which made the cost of tea extremely high.  Naturally, it became a luxury available only to royalty and the very wealthy. (And at that time, by the way, the Russian Tea Cake or Cookie makes its first appearance) By the end of the 1700s, prices had gone down, however, and tea was making its way into the larger Russian society.

Russians used the samovar—an adaptation of the Tibetan hot pot— for preparation. By 1800, the samovar had become a mainstay of Russian households and, as the centerpiece of any social gathering,  was soon becoming an expression of functional art. Samovars were made of various metals; copper, bronze, iron and silver being the most typical. The lady of the house would serve tea to her family and guests and the wealthy would often have two samovars; a plain one for everyday and a fancy one for company. In time, Tea was taken with all meals and at any other time of the day. Samovars were present in homes, trains, offices and restaurants. You would even see street vendors, with samovars, selling hot cups of tea.

Aside from this often intricately decorated contraption,  Russia has developed many unique traditions surrounding tea, prominent among these is sipping it  from podstakanniki; silver holders which hold the heat tempered glass that contains tea that has been sweetened with sugar, jam or honey, the Russian way.

Typical Russian tea is a combination of two or three types and flavors. These different teas are brewed strong and separate. When mixed together in the cup, additional hot water is added to dilute the mixture.

RCH musings:

It is one of our little ambitions to one day acquire a samovar, a set of podstakanniki and sit down with our very own Russian Cookie House creations  and have some real Russian tea, and maybe imagine traders slogging it through the harsh conditions of 16th century Siberia to make the Czar a happy man . We are glad to have supermarkets these days, though…

Re-written/condensed from Wikipedia