Russian tea culture (чай, click to listen) has contributed to the formation of national psyche as much as history, religion, literature, art, or any other manifestation of Russian life. Since the seventeenth century, when tea was presented to the Russian tsar by a Mongolian khan and became popular among royalty, it has developed into Russia’s main beverage, affordable and enjoyed by nearly everybody. Today, an average Russian drinks about 40 oz of tea annually. To compare, Turks use tea six times more (260 oz), British people twice as much (97 oz), and Americans are known to consume three times less tea (only 12 oz).

Tea drinking in Russia is different from both Western and Eastern traditions in several ways. It is not focused on ceremony, taste or history as it is in Japan, China or Great Britain. First and foremost, drinking tea in Russia is a unique social event. Tea is served among family members, friends or guests. In either situation, the set up is quite informal. There is only one major type of tea, the black one, although other brands are available as well. Unless the tea is old or heavily diluted, its taste cannot influence the overall quality of a tea drinking party. Russians can enjoy tea in any cups, whether they came from a royal cupboard or a local Dollar Tree shop.

Another notable feature of Russian tea culture is its brewing process. At first, tea leaves are steeped in boiling water to produce very strong tea concentrate. Then, each person pours a small amount of this concentrate into a cup and dilutes it with hot water according to his own preference. Finally, sugar, lemon, honey, or fruit preserves are added to bring the taste to perfection. When a cup is empty, more concentrate and water are added, and a new round begins.

It is not uncommon to drink tea for several hours. Needless to say, all this time is filled with conversation. Formats vary depending on the situation: everybody can listen to one speaker, take turns, break up into smaller groups, or whatever feels better for the particular moment. In other words, Russian tea is an elaborate way of interaction through openhearted communication in a relaxed (and tasty) setting.