The first thing that crosses one’s mind when speaking about Russian drinks is certainly vodka. Yet, as a matter of fact, long before vodka there were no less popular drinks in Old Rus. As for vodka, it came to Russia via Lithuania where it was brought by the Genoese from their colony in the Crimea. Actually it did not happen until the mid 14th century. So vodka is another story.
Initially these were only nonalcoholic liquids that were called drinks in Russia: they were invigorative and nourishing. Perhaps hence is the now archaic Russian expression translated as “to eat tea”.
The history of Russian beverages is rooted in hoary antiquity. Various kinds of rassol (brine), mors (berry or fruit drink), kvas, myod (drinking honey), vzvar (decoction), forest tea (of herbs and berries) have endured many centuries on their way to our table.
They are all different, each of them having its peculiar role and purpose.
V. Perov. Tea Drinking in Mytishchi
Mikhail Zabylin, the author of the book “Russian People” published in 1880 wrote that myod (honey beverage), a favorite Russian drink, was made so strong, that people got tight with it just like with wine.
Kvas can be considered a national Russian drink along with honey beverages. The first record of kvas dates back to 989, remarkable as the year when the Kiev Prince Vladimir converted his homage to Christianity. The chronicle reports on this as follows: “To hand out food, myod and kvas to the folk”. Kvas was used in banyas (bath-houses) to increase the vapour, whereas sour kvass was poured over oneself for better health. Kvass was made of grains of different processing grades and even from turnip and water-melon. Sorts of kvas differed from each other depending on malt brand, and on flavouring, that could be honey or berries. They also brewed beer, which was made strong and had a variety of brands according to its colour and quality.
Fruit Kvas. Poster
Tea was for the first time brought from China as a present to the Moscow tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich in 1638, yet was not commonly adopted till the early 18th century. Eventually tea drinking ritual became as popular among all circles of Russian society as in the native land of the drink. The scenes of prolonged tea drinking ceremonies with the traditional samovar have been recorded in numerous works of literature, depicted in paintings by lots of Russian artists and folk decorative art. Nowadays, however, one can hardly find a samovar in a usual modern household.
At the same time many people today tend to turn back to the fragrant and salutary teas of forest and field herbs, that had been enjoyed by the Russians long before they adopted “the Chinese herb”, coffee and cacao. Old recipes are being recollected and revived today. You can find some exotic beverages (such as medovukha, sbiten, etc.) available in some Russian stores, or try and make the drinks on your own, following our unique authentic recipes!