Tea Comes to Russia

Russian Overland Tea CompanyWhile tea was being carried into Western Europe over water routes by The East India Company, overland caravans by way of the Levant were bringing it to other parts of Europe. The first tea so to arrive was a gift of several chests brought by a Chinese embassy to the Russian court at Moscow in 1618.

Eighteen arduous months were required for the journey, and if the Chinese hoped by this present to create a demand for their product, the journey was in vain, for the tea failed to win Russian friends at that time. For nearly a score of years after the arrival at Moscow of the imperial gift of tea, nothing of historical importance appears in connection with the early use of the drink in Europe.

Twenty years later, in 1638, Vassily Starkoff, the Russian ambassador at the court of the Mogul Khan Altyn, partook of an infusion of tea, but declined a present of a quantity of it for his master, the Tsar Michael Romanoff, founder of the Romanoff dynasty. The Chinese leaf was considered something for which the Tsar would have no use.

Russia eventually began to import tea regularly from China by way of the overland caravan route through Manchuria and Mongolia. This trade was possible after the signing of the Nerchinsk treaty with China in 1689. Russian commerce with China was confined by this treaty to the town of Kiakhta, on the northern frontier of China, which thus became the sole port of entry for the exchange of the products of both countries.