Russian Caravan Tea - A Tale from The Tea Horse Road
Russian Caravan Tea is an ingenious blend of quality teas that work together to produce a delicious full-bodied brew, with complex woody notes and a smooth, mellow aftertaste. Its name is a historical reference to a time in the 18th century, when camel caravans laden with tea traversed the Ancient Tea Horse Road on a long and arduous journey from China through to Russia. This expedition covered thousands of miles and could take around six months to complete. During this time, the tea changed in character as it absorbed the smokiness from campfires that were lit, and dampness from the atmosphere. By the time it reached its destination it had developed its own unique flavour. Today, this flavour can be reproduced by a mix of Keemun, Oolong and the addition of smoky Lapsang Souchong.
Tea is thought to have been first introduced to Russia in 1638, and by the 18th century regular supplies of tea were being transported from China to Russia via camel caravans along the Tea Horse Road. This road was formed as part of an ancient network of trade routes called the Silk Road, that for thousands of years linked China with the West. As well as tea and silk, many goods were transported in both directions along these routes, including horses, furs, precious stones, glassware, porcelain, textiles, spices, salt, medicines and various other merchandise. The camel caravans carrying tea that wound their way from China, through Tibet, Russia, and on to Europe, would trek across mountains, pass through towns and cities, cross rope bridges over rivers and gorges, and stop at staging posts to rest. Along the way would be palaces, temples and shrines; the route was also a means of cultural exchange and the spread of religion, such as Buddhism and Christianity.
The taste of Russian Caravan Tea may depend on the blend of teas used, but it is usually made from a mix of Oolong, with its floral, clean notes, Keemun, a tea with subtle fruity and burgundy flavours, and smoky Lapsang Souchong. This combination works to achieve a well-balanced sweet and malty flavour with wonderful tobacco-like overtones, emulating the flavour of tea transformed by the smoke from smouldering campfires that were lit during those epic journeys along the Tea Horse Road.
Russian Caravan Tea is best made with freshly boiled water, preferably filtered or bottled. One teaspoon per cup should be brewed for between 3-5 minutes at 100ºC (212ºF). This produces a delightful copper coloured liquor that can be enjoyed as it is, with milk or lemon, and sugar or honey to sweeten if desired.