Any nationality, nation, or country is characterized by the presence of an everyday drink that meets the needs of the population and is consistent with national culture, traditions and climatic features. For Russia, thanks to the efforts of enthusiasts and Russian merchants, tea has become such a drink since the beginning of the 18th century. Russian tea drinking tradition is rooted in the East, where this wonderful drink came from. In China and Japan, the tea ceremony is observed as a real ritual. However, no two great cultures present their fundamentally vision of tea culture exactly the same, and the difference is not only in the external design, the type of tea and methods of brewing it, but also in the goals and philosophy of the tea ritual. How is the Russian tea culture different from the Japanese’s? We will get to that.
Russian Tea Culture
Initially, the Russian tea tradition is divided into classes of noble, merchant-landlord, philistine, general food and common people. Noble aristocrats copied the English way of drinking, petty bourgeois – officials, clerks, shopkeepers, commoners tried to imitate them while at the same time distorting and simplifying the procedure. Through tea drinking, deals were made, enemies were reconciled and engagements were agreed upon. People decided their fates and had nice conversations over cups of tea that has become an integral part of Russian life.
Russian can’t have tea without this metal container called samovar where the water is heated in. The most authentic Russian method of brewing is considered this: water is heated in a samovar, tea is brewed in a large teapot, which is placed on the top of the samovar and covered with a special heating pad (in the form of a woman in fluffy skirts). But today, electric kettles have replaced samovars, the tea leaves are put in cups, and then hot water poured into them, and – if desired – sugar is added. For Russian tea drinking, it is customary to use black Ceylon, Indian, Chinese and Kenyan tea. As companies, honey, jam, pies with various fillings, gingerbread cookies, kalachi, and bagels are served. Strong tinctures and balms are often added to Russian tea.
The way Russians drink their tea is quite unique, although it is not exclusively a Russian thing. Tea is poured into a wide saucer so that it cools faster, and sipped. You can see the cabmen, merchants and servants of the Soviet intelligent in Soviet films doing this. However, in the highest Russian society, this has always been considered vulgar, obviously. The common people and the merchants do not put sugar in tea, but put the sugar in the mouth before sipping to make the tea taste better. In higher societies’ tea party, the sugar is stirred in a cup and then the spoon will be put on a saucer. To show the hosts that they no longer desire tea, the spoon will be returned into the empty cup.
Japanese Tea Culture
The Japanese tea ceremony is a calm and solemn way to appreciate the little things, as well as the pleasure of giving attention to details and the quiet charm of the inner world. The presence of the participants, the world of the tea garden, the tea room and tea utensil, all feel sacred in a Japanese tea ceremony. Japanese culture has given the world an ideal recipe for retreating from everyday worries and gaining a sense of peace and harmony with the inner self. A complex, symbolic tea ceremony is subject to fairly simple principles; they connect purity and sophistication, unpretentiousness and beauty. The “Way of Tea” that the Japanese adopts – with no eating and chatty gathering with friends involved – is a form of Buddhist meditation that arose about four centuries ago.
The Japanese tea room is small with grey-painted walls with shades covering the windows because excessive lighting is avoided in the ceremony. The most important part of the room is the Tokonoma niche, where they place a scroll of wisdom sayings, flowers, as well as incense. The owner and guests are sitting on the tatami on their knees, wearing kimonos. The hearth in which the tea is prepared is in the middle of the room.
At the beginning of the ceremony, kaiseki is served – a light, simple food, which is needed only so that the guests do not feel the discomfort from feeling hungry. It is served while the water in the boiler or kettle is heated. Just before pouring tea, the host passes the ogogashi, sweets, to the guests. The purpose is to prepare for the bitterness of the tea, in order to achieve the harmony of taste. During the tea ceremony, only matcha green powder tea is used.
The Differences between The Cultures
From the explanations above, here are the points of difference we can conclude:
1. Tea drinking in Russia is more of a social event where people meet to talk and connect, while in Japan the ceremony has to be solemn, calm, with no unnecessary talking involved.
2. In Russia, people drink tea to get together and find agreements over several things, while in Japan people drink tea ceremoniously to release them from the hectic outside world and connect with their inner peace.
3. In Russia people can wear almost anything to a tea drinking event, but Japanese should always wear a kimono when attending a tea ceremony.
4. Russian tea drinking use a samovar, a large metal container where the water gets heated in to brew the tea, while Japanese tea ceremony uses clay kettle and cups.
5. Russians usually use Ceylon or Indian tea leaves, while Japanese only use green powder tea.
6. There are quite a lot of food accompanying tea in the Russian culture, while in Japan there are only two types of food allowed that would remind the drinker that it is a ceremony and not a feast.