Did you know that one of the the oldest written references to tea dates back to 59BC? And that the oldest physical evidence/remains of tea date back to the Song Dynasty: AD960-AD1,127? There is a study that concluded that tea was consumed by the Han Dynasty as early as 2,100 BP (before present). Tea has been a loyal companion to human beings for a very, very long time.
We’ll fast-forward to “modern” times (18th Century) and the Ancient Tea and Horse Road, where caravans made their way from central China, through Tibet and eventually into Russia–bridging the East and West–sharing and trading goods. The greatest treasure/commodity taken along that route? TEA.
The humble beginnings of Russian Caravan begin with romantic stories of mile-long caravans of camels loaded with tea leaves. The journey sometimes took as long at 16 months to endure. According to China Highlights: “The Ancient Tea Horse Road rivaled the Silk Road trade routes for importance, and as the longest ancient trade road in the world, at more than 10,000 kilometers in length, but was certainly toughest to travel. Few people in ancient times could finish the whole journey.”
Evidently, the Siberian route offered a “kinder” option for travel, preserving the integrity of the tea due to a drier, colder climate. As the caravans stopped along the frigid, snowy roads they would build campfires to to warm the weary bodies of themselves and their camel companions. With the tea close by the fire, the leaves took on the aroma and taste of the smoke bellowing from the burning wood. By the time they arrived at their Russian destination, the tea had transformed into a heavy, smokey, tobacco-like flavored brew. Though many came to associate this tea with the comfort of warmth from those glowing fires that saved them along the road, others (mainly purists) considered this tea to be “ruined.” Little did those tea-snobs realize at the time that this route and those campfires were creating a new style of tea.
The proper “Russian” way to drink this tea is to use a samovar to create a strong brew – almost like a concentrate – and then pour into cups and adding water lesson the brew. This way creates one of the strongest brews you will ever experience. It’s no wonder the Russians add fruit (often jam) to their teas to lighten the load. If you are looking for a caffeine fueled day, try Russian Caravan made in a samovar. Some of you will take that as a challenge and want to give it a try, others will run away as fast as the wind blows on the Old Silk Road. Here are some tasting notes on this Imperial blend:
• Overview: Famous for its distinct smokey flavor and history dating back to the 18th Century.
• Dry Leaf: Medium, dark brown leaves
• Liquor (liquid): Medium dark color
• Aroma: Immediate aroma of smoke
• Flavor notes: Smokey, but more mild then Lapsang Souchong. Notes of bergamot citrus and bits of chocolate/tobacco
• Brewing recommendation: 212˚F for 1-2 minutes.
• Caffeine: Yes
-The Chief Leaf