Russia tea

Alisa Zhiteneva 10 February 2010

Alisa Zhiteneva hosts a Russia tea

Afternoon Tea is not a common meal to be had every day. Tea needs careful planning and preparation, and as so many cultures show, should be thought of as a ceremony rather than a mere pick-me-up between essays.

 Chaye piteye or tea drinking is a central aspect of Russian culture. It is the opportunity to see friends, to open a treasured jar of home-made jam and to have a well-deserved break (after everything is cooked). So, having been particularly antisocial this week and having finished a satisfying amount of work, I decided to have a little Sunday tea party a la Russe.

Traditionally, Russian tea is made using a samovar, an urn with a sealed central chamber which is filled with pinecones. These are burned to heat the water in the outer compartment. This makes subtly smoky water, which is kept warm by the smouldering embers. This water is used to dilute the strong tea (zavarka) that is brewing in the tea pot – most often a black tea blend. Russian tea is served in dainty tea cups with sugar and a slice of lemon.

Equally important as the tea is the food. Nothing could be more Russian than pancakes, pies and jam. Everybody argues that their mother makes the best pancake. For me the perfect pancake is thin and so full of holes that it resembles lace, not too sweet, and rich without being greasy. I like to have my pancakes with jam, honey or sour cream. No need to stick to lemon and sugar – experiment! This Sunday I made some rum-soaked raisins, which went down a treat.

Apple pies (pirozhki) with a sweet apple and cinnamon filling and a fluffy pastry are easy, cheap and satisfying to bake at home. Their rosy roundness adds a particularly festive air to the table. Today I finally opened my mother’s wild strawberry jam, which I’d been saving since summer. Served in little bowls, nothing could be a tastier partner for tea than a teaspoon of tiny gem-like glacé berries, floating in crimson summer-smelling syrup. Before you ask, I don’t have any left, we finished it all!

Thus, four hours of (intermittent)cooking, three hours of (pretty solid) eating, drinking and chatting, a plate of apple pies, a stack of pancakes, a jar of jam and countless cups of tea later, ten very happy and well-fed friends left my kitchen ready to face the week ahead. Of course, a quick cuppa and biccie also have their time and place, but once in a while, why not treat yourself to something a bit more special?

Alisa Zhiteneva