The drink at all - despite all Vodka legends - has been and will be black tea. Consumption per person is five times as high as in Germany; that would also explain why there is a samowar in the TransSib. Most kinds of tea are from India or China, even so-called "Russian Tea" is actually tea from China and has been brought into our area via commercial routes through Russia. Even though there are also cultivation areas in Georgia and Grusinia, one hasn't found tea from these areas on the world market since the reactor catastrophe in Chernobyl. What is sold as "Russian Tea" or "Russian Mix" in our regions is usually a slightly flowery mix from various cultivation areas, but it is only suitable for the Samowar principle under certain conditions: usually, you boil a strong brew in a small can, and then you fill each glass with one quarter of this brew and three quarters of water. And here, the hot water is traditionally taken from the Samowar - or in a more profane way, simply taken from a kettle.

But in order for the tea not to get bitter you will need certain kinds of tea which I haven't found in our region yet. A replacement might be possible in the form of Darjeeling. Sweetened with sugar or with waranje, which could be translated as jelly but which usually is much more fluid. A very nice variety is black tea with waranje made of wild strawberries, whereas the best thing is the infused berries at the bottom in the end.

Another quite popular version is sachan daila, wild rhododendron growing in the Sayan mountains, from which some leaves are boiled together with the tea. It will create a wonderful flowery flavor, maybe comparable to Earl Grey but still very individualistic.

Furthermore, there are various kinds of herbal tea - from blackberry leaves to wild thyme (tshapress) or several diverse mixes.


Among the Russian kinds of beer, the most popular one is the nowadays in our area well-known Baltika, which is offered with several degrees of strength - with numbers from 0 (non-alcoholic), 3 light), 4 (stout) to 10 (very strong). People say, number 9 is brewed with Vodka... Besides, you'll easily find European and American brands wherever you go.


When it comes to Vodka, you have to differentiate between national brands and many small local distributors who only offer on a local basis. Therefore, some local patriotism is recommended. For us, the most popular brands are the wonderfully mild Svjesta Baikala ("the star of Lake Baikal") and the slightly spicier Baikalskaja with its beautiful dark-blue label. Bottles of Vodka are available in all sizes, starting with the handy (and easy to smuggle ;-)) 0.25l size to the 2.5l family size. In any case, you should have a look at the paper seal on the lid. Another very important rule is that Vodka is never drunken in the street and never alone, but always with a group of people and in combination with bread, pickled cucumbers, bacon, cheese, sardines, etc. - whatever you can find to bind the alcohol. Furthermore, you clink glasses every time, and one after another - with a fixed order for the first speakers - you will give a toast. As you can see, we're not talking about simply getting wasted but about some form of social ritual, and even though the result will sometimes indeed be a bunch of wasted guys, it becomes clear why Russians are capable of drinking a lot and why they make friends afterwards.


Another specialty in Russia is Kwas. Actually being a top-category for slightly fermented drinks, it is usually used for Kwas made of dark bread. But it can also be made of apples, strawberries, cranberries, honey, or various kinds of flour. The principle is always the same: take the main ingredient and either water it for some hours or shortly boil it, then add some sugar and yeast and let it ferment. Typical spices are mint, leaves of redcurrant or blackcurrant, anise, or raisins. The result is often said to be similar to beer but in fact, it is lighter and a little sourer. The amount of alcohol is between 0.5 and 1.5 %.

Non-alcoholic beverages

Of course, if you really need it, you can find Coke and Sprite around the corner. But there are also several brands of Russian soda that you can try without risk (be careful: a lot of sugar!). The variety of sparkling water is also sufficient, although some contain a lot of minerals and, therefore, will take a while to get used to. Juices are usually Western imports and not very common in Russia (due to their cost, etc.).

Buriats - Schnapps (drink of the indigenous people of the Buriats)

Milk schnapps (karchi) (arki) has only been tested by one member of Baikalplan so far, and he doesn't even like alcohol. Therefore, comments on that are difficult to evaluate and therefore are left out at this point. The motto here is: try yourself!


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30 Jan 2006

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