Siberians have always considered tea to be more important than dinner. Tea after a nourishing meal is considered a delicacy and drinking it a sacred action. Not only was having tea an important part of social life, it was also a part of trading negotiations and financial deals.
The tea ceremony in traditional Siberian families followed a certain etiquette. After the first cup of tea, the guest was offered another one, but was expected to decline out of politeness. He or she turned the cup upside down and put a piece of sugar on top. After several more offers from the host and polite refusals from the guest, he/she could accept another cup. This formal exchange would then be repeated after every cup. The custom of tea invitations was widely spread in the rural areas of Siberia. Even the poorest people had a samovar.
"Na chai" (Money for tea) still means to tip someone in modern Russian. Historically, employers added a small amount of money to a worker`s wages when the job was well done. This addition was called "for tea".
Aquiring a samovar was considered an important step in establishing a household. Since sugar was very expensive, poor and even middle class people could only allow themselves to nibble at a lump of sugar while sipping their tea. They also drank tea with honey, jam or Chinese candy in order to make do without the sugar. In old recipes, we find that people added flour, milk, oil and even salt to their tea. Although this does not sound very tasty to us today, these additions were a nourishing substitute for food.
Over the centuries, tea became an important part of life in Siberia, and is still a very popular drink for every occasion.
© A. Kovaleva, T. Romantseva