SOCHI, Russia — A Russian peasant who developed a winter-resistant tea hybrid in 1901 established Sochi as an important domestic supplier in a nation of tea drinkers.
Russia imports the largest quantity of tea in the world to serve a population that likes its tea full-bodied and hot. Russians consume 3 pounds of tea per capita to rank 4th behind England among the world’s tea drinkers.
Visitors to the Olympic Games in this Black Sea resort town will find Sochi has a long history of tea growing and several tea chalets including the two-story Sochi Tea House where visitors can enjoy locally grown black teas. Tours also stop at the Museum of Samovars and include a tea party in a Russian wooden Izba.
Tea drinkers will find the ever-present samovar in area restaurants and homes. This large urn is designed to keep water hot and tea on the boil in a kettle at the top of an internal chimney. Today’s samovars are electrically heated but old style samovars have a fire bin where coal, charcoal and small sticks were burned for heat. The concentrated tea is then diluted about 10:1 and mixed with jam or lumps of raw sugar.
Green tea is preferred in the region bordering China but the people of Eastern Russia are largely black tea drinkers who sometimes place a cube of sugar in their mouth as they sip.
Vyacheslav Moroz, director of the Dagomy-chai tea garden, told USA Today that Sochi tea is grown with little interference from pests as the cold weather proved fatal to insects and also prevents the growth of many tropical blights, fungus and diseases. Tea is ecologically farmed, clean of pesticides, certified organic, harvested mechanically and sold internationally.
The tea is known as Krasnodar Tea after Judas Antonovich Koshman, the Ukrainian peasant whose plants stocked Sochi’s first successful tea plantation in 1905. It is the northernmost grown tea in the world.
Tsar Nicholas II owned a large cattle farm and botanical garden in Dagomys, a section of Sochi about 870 miles south of Moscow. Located along the Black Sea coast with the Caucasus Mountains nearby, this former military outpost became a resort for the wealthy. Since 1689 tea was largely imported from China along an 11,000 mile trade route and very expensive, according to the Liberty Voice. Tea was first introduced in Russia in the mid-1600s as a gift from Mongolia to Tsar Michael I and was used by the nobility for medicinal purposes.
“By the late 1700s, tea was gaining acceptance in Russian society which brought the prices down. It was during this time that the first factory production began of the uniquely Russian “teapot,” the samovar,” according to the Liberty Voice.
Tea growers that settled near Sochi were unsuccessful in the 1870s and 1880s due to the winter weather. The Tea Museum in Sochi tells the story of a Russian expedition in 1896 that purchased 2,000 kilos of Chinese tea seeds but fewer than 5% germinated. Koshman experimented with the stock and managed to grow 800 bushes in Solokh-Aul, a fertile region about 30 kilometers south of Sochi protected from the harsh winter.
Full scale commercial production began in 1936 in Dagomys-chai. By the 1980s the 5,000-acre garden was one of the largest suppliers of tea to the Soviet Union.
Source: Tula Museum of Samovars