While tea-drinking outside of Japan and China is not attended
with any high-days and holidays, still there are countries
where it is just as important element of the daily life of its
people as it is in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Among the Burmese a newly-married couple, to insure a happy
life, exchange a mixture of tea-leaves steeped in oil.
In Bokhara, every man carries a small bag of tea about with him.
When he is thirsty he hands a certain quantity over to the
booth-keeper, who makes the beverage for him. The Bokhariot, who is
a confirmed tea-slave, finds it just as hard to pass a tea-booth
without indulging in the herb as our own inebriates do to go by
a corner cafe. His breakfast beverage is Schitschaj--tea in
which bread is soaked and flavored with milk, cream, or mutton
fat. During the daytime he drinks green tea with cakes of flour
and mutton suet. It is considered a gross breach of manners to
cool the hot tea by blowing the breath. This is overcome by
supporting the right elbow in the left hand and giving an easy,
graceful, circular movement to the cup. The time it takes for
each kind of tea to draw is calculated to a second. When the can
is emptied it is passed around among the company for each
tea-drinker to take up as many leaves as can be held between the
thumb and finger; the leaves being considered a special dainty.
An English traveller once journeying through Asiatic Russia
was obliged to claim the hospitality of a family of Buratsky
Arabs. At mealtime the mistress of the tent placed a large kettle
on the fire, wiped it carefully with a horse's tail, filled it with
water, threw in some coarse tea and a little salt. When this was
nearly boiled she stirred the mixture with a brass ladle until the
liquor became very brown, when she poured it into another
vessel. Cleaning the kettle as before, the woman set it again on
the fire to fry a paste of meal and fresh butter. Upon this she
poured the tea and some thick cream, stirred it, and after a time
the whole. Was taken off the fire and set aside to cool. Half-pint
mugs were handed around and the tea ladled into them: the
result, a pasty tea forming meat and drink, satisfying both
hunger and thirst.
M. V?mb?ry says: The picture of a newly encamped caravan in
the summer months, on the steppes of Central Asia, is a truly
interesting one. While the camels in the distance, but still in
sight, graze greedily, or crush the juicy thistles, the travellers,
even to the poorest among them, sit with their tea-cups in their
hands and eagerly sip the costly beverage. It is nothing more
than a greenish warm water, innocent of sugar, and often
decidedly turbid; still, human art has discovered no food,
invented no nectar, which is so grateful, so refreshing, in the
desert as this unpretending drink. I have still a vivid recollection
of its wonderful effects. As I sipped the first drops, a soft fire
filled my veins, a fire which enlivened without intoxicating. The
later draughts affected both heart and head; the eye became
peculiarly bright and began to glow. In such moments I felt an
indescribable rapture and sense of comfort. My companions
sunk in sleep; I could keep myself awake and dream with open
Tea is the national drink of Russia, and as indispensable an
ingredient of the table there as bread or meat. It is taken at all
hours of the day and night, and in all the griefs of the Russian
he flies to tea and vodka for mental refuge and consolation. Tea
is drunk out of tumblers in Russia. In the homes of the wealthy
these tumblers are held in silver holders like the sockets that
hold our soda-water glasses. These holders are decorated, of
course, with the Russian idea of art.
In every Russian town tea-houses flourish. In these public
resorts a large glass of tea with plenty of sugar in it is served at
what would cost, in our money, about two cents. Tea with
lemon is so general that milk with the drink, over there, is
considered a fad.
The Russians seem to like beverages that bite--set the teeth on
edge, as it were.
The poor in Russia take a lump of sugar in their mouths and let
the tea trickle through it. Travelling tea-peddlers, equipped with
kettles wrapped up in towels to preserve the heat, and a row of
glasses in leather pockets, furnish a glass of hot tea at any hour
of the day or night.
The Russian samovar--from the Greek to boil itself--is a
graceful dome-topped brass urn with a cylinder two or three
inches in diameter passing through it from top to bottom. The
cylinder is filled with live coals, and keeps the water boiling hot.
The Russian tea-pots are porcelain or earthen. Hot water to heat
the pot is first put in and then poured out; dry tea is then put in,
boiling water poured over it; after which the pot is placed on top
of the samovar.
We all know about tea-drinking in England. It is not a very
picturesque or interesting occasion, at best. To the traditional
Englishman's mind it means simply a quiet evening at home,
attended by the papers, and serious conversations in which the
head of the house deals out political and domestic wisdom until
ten o'clock. During the day, tea-taking begins with breakfast
and rounds up on the fashionable thoroughfares in the afternoon.
Here one may see the Britishers at their best and worst. These
places are called tea-shops, and in them one may acquire the
latest hand-shake, the freshest tea and gossip, see the newest
modes and millinery, meet and greet the whirl of the world. An
interesting study of types, in contrasts and conditions of society,
worth the price of a whole chest of choice tea.
We are pretty prosaic tea-drinkers in America. Is it because
there is not enough touch and go about the drink, or that we
are too busy to settle down to the quiet, comfort, and thoughtful
tea-ways of our contemporaries? Wait until a few things are
settled; when our kitchen queens do not leave us in the gray of
the morning, and all of our daughters have obtained diplomas
in the art and science of gastronomy.
However made or taken, tea at best or worst is a glorious drink.
As a stimulant for the tired traveller and weary worker it is
unique in its restful, retiring, soothing, and caressing qualities.