Tealicious History: Russian Caravan

Welcome to the second installment of Tealicious History – a post that is dedicated to my Mothership, Michelle. Unlike me, she likes her tea to taste like a cross between a campfire and an ashtray. Delicious.

Traditionally, Russian Caravan is made from a mixture of several Chinese black teas – Oolong, Keemum and Lapsang Souchong. However, all of these varieties are produced from the same plant – Camellia Sinensis. The differentiation in taste is achieved through varying the methods of harvesting, drying, processing and brewing the tea.

Russian Caravan is a medium strength tea that has a hint of malt and a distinctive smokey aroma caused by the Lapsang Souchong. Originally, the latter was only intended as a natural preservative, but it became an important element of the tea itself.

Mmm, delicious camels. Photo Credit – The Tea Caddy website.

After vodka, tea has been the most consumed beverage in Russia throughout history. However, as the Chinese blend suggests, Russian Caravan is not of Russian origin. The name originated in the 18th century when new trade routes opened between China and Russia. The tea was generally transported by camel caravans, which is why many modern varieties of Russia Caravan feature them on the packaging. Each trip via this route took at least six months to complete as the journey was the almost ten thousand kilometres long.

There was an alternate route to the south that passed through Odessa in the Ukraine. The price of this tea was cheaper due to the quicker and far easier journey, however, it also supposedly effected the flavour due to exposure to the sea.

In comparison, the traditional route was harsh due to the cold and dry climate of Mongolia and Siberia, but this is said to have enhanced and improved the flavour of the tea. Some believe that a peculiar delicacy of flavour was imparted to the leaves by the slight moisture it absorbed when it was unloaded onto the snow at night. As such, it sold for a higher price.

Russian Caravan tea remains popular today, being sold anywhere from supermarkets to speciality tea shops and cafes. It’s smokey taste continues to be a pleasure for those who like their tea to taste like it was brewed in the fires of hell. Mmm, tasty brimstone.

It’s okay, I’m allowed to be unjustly biased in my commentary due to preferring Earl Grey, which supposedly tastes like dirty dishwater.

See you all next time.