Friday, June 30, 2006

Old Tea Traditions

Tea has been consumed in China for centuries, but other cultures are rich in history of this popular beverage as well. Two of those countries, Russia and England have developed decidedly different traditions over the years.

It is said that drinking tea began in China where over 5000 years ago, leaves from the plant accidentally fell into water being boiled for drinking. Needless to say, it was found to be very refreshing and it's use became widespread. Tea was introduced to Europe through the Portuguese in the early 1500’s and it didn’t take long for this beverage to become popular in many countries and traditions for English tea parties and Russian tea were formed.

This drink became so popular in both countries the each developed certain traditions as well as pots, vessels and cups to drink it from. Although the introduction of tea is centuries old, the popularity of it and the traditions associated with it remain in these cultures to this day.

In the early 1600’s, tea made it’s way to Russia. Of course, it was only the wealthy that could afford tea at first but by the end of the 1700's the price was dropping and it's popularity was spreading throughout the country.

In Russia, tea is never taken with meals. Traditionally it is taken after the meal or as a mid afternoon snack. For centuries, Russians have used a device called a Samovar to make tea. The samovar is usually put in the center of the table after dinner and everyone gathers round and takes tea which they can dilute or sweeten as they like. Russians traditionally sip tea in glasses set in silver holders and favor their tea as strong and highly sweetened – some recipes even call for tang or lemonade added to tea!

Tea was introducted to England in the mid 1600's and it's popularity spread so quickly that it was soon as popular a drink as ale! In the late 1700’s to well known tradition of afternoon tea was started by the Duchess of Bedford.

Prior to that, the English enjoyed only 2 meals – a breakfast and a dinner. The dinner was served at the end of the day and by mid afternoon you can imagine how hungry and energy depleted many felt. So, the tradition of afternoon tea was begun where tea would be served along with little cakes and sandwiches. Of course, this proved to be immensely popular and still is today!

One of the great benefits of the afternoon tea was that it necessitated fancy pieces to for service and drinking. The main pot that heated the water was usually made of silver (still a very popular item today) and this was kept over a flame so that it would be hot at all times. In addition, small porcelain tea pots were used to pour at the table and they were refreshed with the hot water from the silver pot when needed. Of course the tradition included fancy porcelain tea cups to drink from as well. These pieces are still made and used today, and the antiques are highly collectible.

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