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Russian Tea – A wonderful experience - October 16, 2015

image - Russian samovar and teacup - www.buyrussiansamovar.com

Like coffee is to Italian culture, tea is to Russian culture. It’s much more than a drink, it’s part of daily life, a ritual that allows people to sit down face-to-face, eat and drink together, and enjoy time catching up on news and each other’s lives. I wrote about coffee in my post about Milano Caffé, a fragrance from Italian niche line La Via del Profumo, today is about tea.

I’ve travelled to many places around the world but never to Russia. My image of this vast country has been shaped by the facts of world history, by classics like Anna Karenina, James Bond, Dr. Zhivago, John Le Carre spy novels and the 2008 five-part BBC documentary “Russia: A Journey with Jonathan Dimbleby”, (which is fabulous, by the way, and definitely worth watching). It feels so far away and foreign, so I was happily surprised to learn that tea is the national drink. But of course, it’s tea with a difference, it’s Russian tea, an integral part of their traditional culture.

According to Wikipedia, tea has had a rich and varied history in Russia since 1638, when it first arrived by camel caravans from China. The story goes that this black tea acquired its distinctive smoky flavour from the campfires by which it was stored at night to keep it dry during its endless journey through Siberia. Today’s traditional Russian Caravan Tea gets its smoky quality through fermentation and mixing with other tea varieties such as Lapsang or Tarry Souchong. Mint leaf is also added for freshness, to contrast with the dark smoky bitterness of the dried tea. The focus of the tea ritual is the Russian samovar which boils the water to dilute an extremely strong infusion, called zavarka, which is then  sweetened in the teacup with honey, sugar, or raspberry jam.

It was the shared experience of this ritual tea ceremony on a winter’s day in St. Petersberg which inspired Alessandro and Riccardo, the founders of another exceptional Italian niche brand, Masque Milano, to have Russian Tea created by Julien Rasquinet as Act 1, Scene III of their imaginary fragrance opera. (I’ve written about Tango, Act III, Scene IV). From the website:

“Out there, the snow-covered Nevsky Prospekt, and a sumptuous Art Noveau building. Inside, a large bookstore. And, on the first floor, an elegant cafè. As water is poured in the cup, the infusion unleashes its most characteristic notes. Black tea, heavy and intense. A floral note, sharp and biting. And that unmistakably dry and smoky aftertaste given by the caravanserai campfires, meant to keep the precious tea cargo dry in the never-ending journey through Siberia. The fresh mint leaves give a pleasant fresh touch to the hot water. A teaspoon of raspberry preserve sweetens, without altering it, the bitter aftertaste of leather and birch. We sip it slowly, gazing out of the wide window, towards the beautiful cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan and beyond. The Russian Tea Ritual today carried us to an unexpected journey in remote lands, full of mystery and fascination.”

Russian Tea smells exactly like they describe it. Dry bitter smoky notes with hints of pepper, black tea leaves scattered with freshly crushed mint leaves, slightly sweet and deliciously aromatic, spooned into the teapot. It sweetens as it steeps and is poured out, boiling water added from the samovar lifting the dark smokiness with notes of maple-sugary immortelle, and light floral notes. Through the heart the scent opens and blooms sweetly – it must be the raspberry preserves added to sweeten - and then darkens again as it cools, with wafting notes of leather and smoke fading into a soft incense accord in the dry-down. Russian Tea becomes warm and comforting on the skin, still lightly fragrant with smoky black tea notes after 8-10 hours.

This is an unusual fragrance, perfectly suited for both sexes, regardless of beverage preference. I read an old Russian saying which says: “Where there is tea, there is paradise.” I’m not certain that everyone would agree whole-heartedly with this statement, but I definitely do. I’m in paradise when I can drink it and wear it, and it smells as delicious as Russian Tea.  

Russian Tea is listed in our Decant Store. Decants are $5.00 for 1 ml.