Tea Ceremony: Destination Russia


Tea was introduced to Russia in the mid-1600s when the Chinese ambassador to Moscow of the time made a gift of tea to Tsar Aleksey Mikhaylovich.   Russia was trying to establish trade with China and tea soon became popular.   In 1558, Tsar Ivan IV provided the Stroganov merchant family possession of Siberia.   However, the only clause was that the family had to occupy a vast region.   The Cossacks, who acted as protection for the tsars, started establishing communities.   When Russian explorer Deshnev reached the Pacific coast in 1645, Russia and China had a boarder dispute.   Thus, the Treaty of Nerchinsk was drafted and signed in 1689, allowing a common boundary line between China and Russia and allowing trade caravans to pass peacefully.

The trade route was difficult, since the road was over mountainous terrain and the journey took over 16 months.   Thus, tea prices were very high and was a luxury only afforded to royalty and the very wealthy.   In the 1700s, tea prices went down a little, allowing laymen to start drinking the amazing beverage.   The trade caravans ceased to exist when the Trans-Siberian Railroad was completed in the 1900s.   Now, tea and vodka are the two primary beverages in Russia.

Russians took to tea because it was warm and hearty, preferring stronger, darker brews that are sweetened with sugar, jam or honey.

A samovar and podstakanniki were both beautiful and functional.

A samovar and podstakanniki were both beautiful and functional.

Intricate samovars, an adaptation of the Tibetan hot pot, was both a heater and a source to boil water.   Tea is sipped from podstakanniki (under the glass): silver holders which hold the hot tea glass.

Conducting a Russian Tea Ceremony:

Russian tea is typically comprised of two or three types and flavors, brewed dark and in separate pots.   When mixed in the cup, additional water is added to dilute the stronger brew.

The teapots are designed to sit onto of one another with the bottom pot holding the hot water.   The next pit will be for very dark tea.   Finally, the highest pot holds herbal or mint-flavored tea.   This saves space and allows the tea to stay hot longer.

The samovar has become a focal point in the Russian household, acting as both a functional item and a beautiful centerpiece for social gatherings.   It would be used as a sort of bragging right, allowing guests to admire the ornate one.

Women serve the tea to family and guests.   It is served at all meals and pretty much and time of the day.   Sometimes, you can find street vendors with samovars marketing cups of hot tea to tourists.

Photo Credit:

Kilu.de.   2011.   samovar_P1070701_big.JPEG, 26 Jan 2012.   JPEG.

Source Credit:

DeLaine, Linda.   “Tea Time in Russia.”   Russian Life, 2012.   26 Jan 2012.   Web.

Blog To Follow Tomorrow!

Hello everyone! It’s been a day of computer problems and what-not. Therefore, the blog will have to be delayed this week to tomorrow. So sorry!

In the meantime, there is a world tea expo being held over in Las Vegas. So tempting!


Tea Ceremony: Destination Tibet


Tibetan tea was helped along by the English colonists of India.   Despite the high temperatures and less-than-par living conditions, colonists refused to give up their tea time.   Drinkers can still notice the large divide in class when it comes to drinking tea.   At trains and stations, the drink is served in clay cups that are shattered after they are used to ensure than no one of a lower caste has drunk from the same cup.

Tibetan tea is not the typical tea that Americans are used to.   Rather than imbibe with with sugar, cream and a bit a lemon, shepherds tend to drink their salted tea with a bit of yak’s butter.   The tea is served with a flat cake of ground parched barley or corn, mixed with buckwheat that is then kneaded into balls.

Yak Butter Is Used in Tibetan Tea

Yak Butter Is Used in Tibetan Tea

The tea, rather than a tea leaf or a tea bag like we are used to, are found in bricks.   This is due to the altitude of the mountains and the difficulty of regular tea delivery. The tea is simply broken off and allowed to brew for a few hours.

According to Father E. R Huc, author of Souvenirs d’un voyage dans la Tartarie, le Tibet et la Chine, there are two types of tea ceremonies found in Tibet.   One is more for a small group of lamas distributed by a kind pilgrim.   The other is the general tea, which can be offered to more than four thousand people gathering for major celebrations.   Needless to say, this is highly costly.

Tea is considered a sacred offering, the only place in the world to consider it so.   However, it is also a part of general hospitality and should not be readily refused if one wishes to remain polite.

Conducting a Tibetan Tea Ceremony:

The Tibetan tea ceremony, also known as Po-cha, is not as spiritual as the Japanese or Chinese tea ceremonies discussed thus far.   Instead, they were more used as a way to keep warm during the harsh winters in the mountains.   It is believed that the butter keeps one warm and the hot drink only enhances this property.

Guests are required to drink at least three cups of this tea in order to not be rude.   A pot is kept on all day, making it easy to get a hold of this beverage quickly.   To avoid any bad luck, bowls that the tea is sipped from must be filled to the brim.

Photo Credit:

True Wild Life: All About Wild Life.   8 April 2011.   yak.JPEG, 19 Jan 2012.   JPEG.

Source Credit:

Brochard, Gilles, Anthony Burgess, Alain Stella, and Catherine Donzel.   The Book of Tea.   Trans. Deke Dusinberre.   Paris: Flammarion, 2005.   Print.

Hasu Tea.   “Tibetan Tea Ceremony of Po-Cha.”   Hasu Tea, 2006.   19 Jan 2012.   Web.

Tea Ceremony: Destination China

History of the Chinese Tea Ceremony:

In China, tea was also used initially for medicinal purposes, much like the tea in Japan.   This was strictly within the confines of the temples that dotted the landscape.   Soon, monks began to evolve their tea usage and use it to teach a respect for nature, humility and an overall sense of peace and calmness.   Monks tried to display these philosophical ideas through their tea ceremonies, mixing Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism in their tea ceremonies.   Soon, like the Japanese, the tea ceremonies evolved into a memorial service for both noblemen and family members.

A Young Girl Conducting A Tea Ceremony

A Young Girl Conducting A Tea Ceremony

The Japanese came to China and learned more about the Chinese tea ceremony, breaking off and forming their own tea ceremony.   Originally, the ceremony was called cha dao, or the way of tea.   However, in the 1970s, the Chinese felt a need to differentiate their tea ceremony from the Japanese and re-named their process to cha yi, or the art of tea.

The Chinese tea ceremony has six major parts to it in order to summarize the technical aspects and the skills needed for success.   They are:

–          Attitude.   The host should reflect a happy, calm, relaxed and confident demeanor.

–          Tea selection.   Tea not only needs to taste good; it needs to have a wonderful name and a beautiful background story.

–          Water selection.   Tea is only as good as the water it is put in.   The water should be pure, light and clean.

–          Teaware selection.   Guests should be able to admire and appreciate the beauty of the items.

–          Ambiance.   The ceremony should be in a clean, quiet room that is enhanced with touches of artwork.

–          Technique.   This not only means the manner in which the tea is brewed.   It involves the full body – hand movement, facial expression, grace and demeanor.

Conducting a Chinese Tea Ceremony:

Chinese tea ceremonies are not as ritualistic as Japanese tea ceremonies, but do deserve the same attention and respect as one might offer any culture.   You will need:

A tea-pot

A tea strainer

A kettle

A tea pitcher

A brewing tray

A deep pot or bowl, meant to wash the tea-pot, tea cups and to discard used tea

A tea towel

Water (if possible, get high-quality water)

Loose tea leaves (traditionally, it is oolong, though any tea will suffice)

A tea pick to unclog the tea-pot

A tea leaf holder


Scent cups (a cup with a narrow neck so that one can appreciate the aroma of the tea)

Tea cups (handless cups for drinking the tea)


–          Cure the tea cups in the same way that you did for the Japanese tea ceremony.   However, rather than use tea to soak the tea items, hot water will do.   Use the tongs to take the cups and pot out of the hot water, so as not to burn yourself!

–          Pour a cup of tea and pass it around to your guests so that they can smell the tea, appreciate the aroma, the look and the quality.

–          Make a full pot of tea for your guests now.   Take the tea leaves out of the tea leaf holder and pour the tea leaves into the tea-pot.   Place the tea-pot into the bowl and pour the water from the kettle into the tea-pot from shoulder height.   The tea-pot should overflow.

–          Scoop away any bubbles and tea leaves and put the lid on the tea-pot.   Pour hot water on the pot so that the internal and external temperatures are the same.

–          Pour all the tea into the tea pitcher and fill the tea scent cups.   Place the tea cups upside down on the scent cups.   This act is said to bring prosperity and happiness.

–          This part might take practice for some.   Take the tea cups and flip them so the tea goes from the scent cups into the tea cups.   Do not drink the tea just yet.   Pour this tea into the bowl.

–          Using the same tea leaves that have been in the tea-pot, pour heated water into the tea-pot.   This time, pour the water just above the tea pot.   This is so you do not remove the flavor from the tea leaves too quickly.   Place the lid on the tea pot.

–          Pour the brewed tea into the pitcher.   Pour the tea into the tea scent cups.   Transfer this tea into the tea cups.   You will use this tea for drinking.

–          As a guest, it is proper to thank the person who refills your tea-cup by tapping your pointer and middle finger against your tea-cup.   This is appropriate for more casual settings.

–          The tea drinker cradles the tea-cup in both hands and they savor the aroma before drinking.   The tea should be drunk in three sips total.   The first sip should be small.   The second sip is the biggest sip that the drinker should take.   Finally, the third sip is to empty the cup and savor the aftertaste.

–          After the tea has been finished, use the tongs to empty out the tea leaves from the tea pot.   Discard used tea leaves in the bowl.

–          Finally, the used tea leaves are shown to the guests so that the quality can be appreciated.   The tea ceremony is ended.

Photo Credit:

China Connections Tour.   2012.   Chinese_Tea_10.jpg, 10 Jan 2012.   JPEG.

Source Credit:

Mack, Lauren.   “Brew Perfect Chinese Tea with Gōngfū Chá, a Traditional Chinese Tea Ceremony.”   About.com, 2012.   Web.   10 Jan 2012.

Seven Cups: Fine Chinese Teas.   “Chinese Tea Ceremony History.”   Sevencupsoftea.com, 2001.   Web.   11 Jan 2012.

Tea Ceremony: Destination Japan

History of the Japanese Tea Ceremony:

The Japanese tea ceremony is highly ritualistic.   The first records mentioning a tea ceremony was in the eighth century, though it probably did not look like the modern-day tea ceremony.   Buddhist monks came out with a book called Cha Ching in order to teach how to properly prepare the tea and use the tea vessels correctly.   Today, it is thought that this book helped shape the tea ceremony we now know.

Tea was not readily available to all, being mainly a medicinal drink that later evolved into a drink for the noblemen.   Because of the rarity of the beverage, rules and regulations were set on how to drink the tea.   In 1187 Myoan Eisai, a Japanese priest, traveled to China to study philosophy and religion.   When he came back, he founded Zen Buddhism and built the first temple of the Rinzai sect.    Some think that he was the first to start cultivating tea for religious reasons rather than medicinal.   He suggested grinding the tea leaves before adding them into the boiling water, known as matcha tea.

Japanese Woman in a Kimono Making Tea

Japanese Woman in a Kimono Making Tea

The monk met with hostility with the new religion he was introducing, putting him and the tea ceremony at risk.   However, he was able to gain protection from the newly converted Kamakura shogunate and was able to keep writing about the tea ceremony.   He wrote a book called Kissa Yojoki (“Tea Drinking Is Good for Health”), in which he cites various health reasons to drink tea, including curing loss of appetite, paralysis, boils and sickness from tainted water.    Tea popularity grew as more people heard about its amazing properties.   The samurai class specifically loved the tea ceremony and spread the popularity further.

When the Kamakura shogunate in 1333, a new class of people came about called the Gekokujou.   These noblemen were also enraptured by the idea of tea ceremonies and decided to turn it into a type of game with their friends.   The game Toucha challenges drinkers to distinguish between genuine teas and other lower quality teas.   People would place bets and the winners would get expensive prices, adding to the excitement of the tea party.

At first, each person was provided a tea-cup.   Soon, the tea ceremony parties grew from twenty to thirty to even one hundred people at a time.   It would be impossible to provide each person a tea-cup, so attendees would either drink from the same tea-cup and pass it to their neighbor, or they would pass a tea bowl.   This also helps to reaffirm the close ties that attendees have with one another.

Tea ceremonies were scaled down again to be for smaller, more lavish groups in a more simplified setting.   Zen priest Murata Shukou dedicated his life to the Zen-like tea ceremony and offered instruction to those who wished to learn more.   He wanted to serve the tea to his guests, rather than have another, creating an intimate bond with his guests.   Simplicity, sober-looking colors, intimacy and types of utensils were all important to Shukou.   He became the first chanoyusha, a professional teacher of the tea ceremony.

A wabi-suki is also a teacher of the tea ceremony but he also focuses on faith in the performance of the tea, an ability to act with decorum and excellent practical skills.   A meijin has the qualities of a wabi-suki but is also a collector of fine Chinese tea utensils.

The tea ceremony is kept Zen-like and low-key as it was originally designed.   Highly ritualistic, the tea ceremony is both complicated, yet simple.

Conducting a Japanese Tea Ceremony:

In order to conduct a Japanese tea ceremony, one needs to concentrate on steps that are simple in their ideas, yet complicated in their execution.   You will need:

A tea kettle

Tea cups (if serving the tea in cups, rather than a tea bowl)

A tea bowl (if serving the tea in a communal bowl)

A tea bowl containing the unprepared matcha tea

A tea scoop to scoop the matcha tea

Bamboo ladle for the water

Bamboo whisk to mix the tea

Bamboo rest for the tea kettle lid

Cleaning basin for guests

A wooden stand

Tatami mats (straw mats)

A fine silk cloth the cleanse the tea bowl

A tea cloth to clean the items

Decorations for the room (flowers, candles, paintings, etc)

Sweets to munch on

–          Be sure to aspire to a proper tea ceremony.   If you do decide to conduct one, make sure that you are dedicated to doing so.   You will need to prepare everything ahead of time, display any flowers in a way that they compliments nature, evoke warmth during the winter or coolness during the summer, prepare for any rain if you have it outdoors, make an inviting bowl of tea for your guests and attend to them.   Your guests are highly important and should feel as such.

–          There are four principles of a tea ceremony that you should try to meet.   The wa (harmony), kei (respect), sei (cleanliness of soul and body), and jaku (tranquility) should be on your mind the entire time.

–          It is recommended to cure the tea pots and the tea cup that you will be using.   Place loose tea into the tea-pot with boiling water and let it sit for the day.   To cure the tea cups, put boiling tea into a large bowl and put the tea cups into it for a day.   This allows the tea oils to fill the tea cups and tea-pot.   However, a typical tea ceremony is with a tea bowl instead.   We will be discussing how to conduct a ceremony using a tea bowl, rather than individual cups.

–          Find a nice, quiet room to have your tea party.   If you can, have it outside in a garden.   The Zen nature of the garden will compliment the ceremony.

–          While tea ceremony rooms are typically decorated in a certain way, the main idea is to create a warm, welcoming environment for your tea ceremony.   Candles and flowers can add a touch of peace to the room.   Just be sure to keep everything simple.   Your guests will be kneeling, so a tatami mat is encouraged.

–          Prepare the tea room before your guests come in.   You should bring in your tea set, tea pot, a stone basin for guests to cleanse themselves, a wooden stand to hold everything, your sweets you plan to serve, a bowl to hold the matcha, a portable hearth to keep the tea pot warm and a silk cover for the bowl holding the tea.

–          Invite your guests to the tea room by ringing a gong during the day, or a bell during the night.

–          Have your guests wash their hands and mouth using the fresh water in the basin.   Guide them to the mat after they are cleaned.

–          Bring in the tea bowl with the matcha.   You should have the tea scoop resting across the bowl.   Also bring in the tea whisk and tea cloth.   Offer your guests some sweets to munch on while they talk.

–          Bring in the waste water bowl, the bamboo ladle and the bamboo rest for the kettle lid.   Offer your guests more sweets.

–          Use the silk cloth to cleanse the tea container and the tea scoop.

–          Ladle some hot water into the tea pot and clean the whisk.   When you are finished with the process, empty the tea bowl and wipe it with the tea cloth.

–          Place three scoops of tea per guest into the tea bowl using the scoop.   Be sure to lift both the scoop and tea container while doing this.

–          Ladle hot water from the kettle into the tea bowl.   There should be enough water to create a thick liquid with the whisk.

–          Return unused water to the kettle using the ladle.

–          Pass the bowl to your first guest.   The guest should bow when receiving the tea.   Rotating the bowl is a sign that the guests are admiring the bowl.   Finally, the guest should drink from the bowl, clean the rim and pass it to the next guest.

–          After all guests have had some tea, take the bowl and rinse the tea scoop and whisk.   Finally, clean the tea container and offer it to the guests to admire.

Photo Credit:

Let’s Learn Japanese.   17 July 2011.   japanese_tea2[1].jpeg, 3 Jan 2012.   JPEG.

Source Credit:

eHow.   “How to Conduct a Japanese Tea Ceremony.”   eHow.com, 2012.   Web.   3 Jan 2012.

The Japanese Tea Ceremony: Find Anything You Need to Know About Preparing Matcha the Japanese Way.   “History of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.”   Japanese-tea-ceremony.net, 2011.   Web.   3 Jan 2012.

Williams, Sarah.   “A Chinese Tea Ceremony: The Art of Drinking and Serving Tea.”   FoodEditorials.com, 2012.   Web.   3 Jan 2012.