Saturday, January 26, 2019

Tea Etiquette in 19th C. Russia

Vintage postcard, featuring Russian Tea “Rag Dolls”

There are several elements without which it is difficult to imagine tea drinking in 19th century Russia:

1. A samovar

2. A teapot 
3. A “hot-water” doll (known as a tea cozy in the US and UK). 
3. Porcelain cups, saucers, teaspoons and dishes. In wealthy homes, fine porcelain was used for tea drinking.
4. Sweets to serve for eating while enjoying the tea (including sugar in a bowl for sweetening the tea).

Nobles were among the first began to drink tea. They copied the customs adopted by the British. In the noble families, the tea table was covered twice a day with a fine white cloth. Expensive porcelain dishes were present on the table to emphasize the elegance of the ceremony. Often they drank tea on the open summer terraces. Over tea, the guests talked about refined topics.

A Russian “hot water doll,” or tea cozy.

To serve and enjoy tea as Russians did in the 19th century – The samovar is placed directly on a small tea table or at the end of a larger table. Tea leaves are poured into a small teapot, with hot water from the samovar poured in, and a rag doll is put on top, keeping the water hot for steeping the tea. The resulting brew is poured into cups and diluted with boiling water. Everyone can choose the strength of the drink. 

Only the mistress herself pours tea, and only in case of emergency is this action entrusted by the eldest of the daughters, which corresponds to an unwritten rule - the same person, well familiar with the pouring, should always pour the tea. Tea is drunk from china, surely not topping up 1-2 cm from the edge of the cup, which is considered good form.

Etiquette for drinking tea properly in Russia: 

Do’s for tea drinking

  • It is necessary to ensure that the edges of the teacup remain clean. It is not polite to leave traces of lipstick, or greasy food on it. It is necessary to blot lips with a napkin before starting tea drinking.
  • Biscuits or cakes, which are often served with tea, are to be eaten with a spoon. If sand, puff cake or pie with sweet filling is served, it is necessary to use a fork and a knife. Cut a small piece carefully with a knife, and bring to the mouth with the help of a fork.
  • If tea is served, refined sugar in a common bowl, you must use special tongs, with which you can put the required number of pieces in the tea or on a saucer.
  • Earlier, to show that tea drinking is over, the guest turned his cup on a saucer. Now you can just put your spoon in the cup, and it will be perceived as a refusal of any more tea.
Don’ts during tea drinking
  • You should not blow tea, even if it is very hot. Moreover, you cannot drink tea from a spoon, it is a sign of bad manners. It will take only a few minutes, and the tea will cool down, you just need to wait a bit.
  • In merchant houses they drank tea from saucers, but now this tradition has gone down in history, so there is no need to do this at the table.
  • A teaspoon after stirring tea should not be left in a cup or placed on a tablecloth, for this there is a saucer.
  • You should not stick out your little finger while holding a tea cup.
  • A teacup is always brought to your mouth. You do not need to bend over to take a sip.
  • You need to drink tea silently.

Meet our newest contributor, Maria Pavlova. Russian born, Maria started studying etiquette and traditions as a young girl, as it was important to her family. She dedicated much time and research to 19th century etiquette and customs. For a time, she ran an etiquette school called, “The Russian Princess.” Now, living abroad, she offers consultations and conducts etiquette lessons online.

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia 

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