I was first introduced to Russian Caravan tea while visiting England so long ago that I can no longer remember the brand. At the time, even the name conjured up something exotic … Russian (so far away) … and caravan (think of long journeys undertaken by camels) … and that was before I had even tasted the tea! Reading about the history of this tea, I see I am not wrong about either the distance or the camels.
The name Russian Caravan tea refers to the 18th century camel caravans that followed the ‘Great Tea Road’ from China to Europe. These trip naturally took several months and were undertaken under rather harsh conditions: part of the route went from Kashgar behind China’s Great Wall, through the Gobi Desert to Urga in Mongolia. You can see a map of the route and find out more about it at http://siberiantimes.com/other/others/news/n0312-new-tourist-route-follows-the-great-tea-road/
One can imagine the loads of tea leaves being imbued with smoke from the nightly campfires so that by the time they reached Russia the leaves would have taken on an added smoky flavour – which the Russians of the time happened to enjoy!
I have strong memories of the delicious, aromatic flavour of my first encounter with Russian Caravan tea and been disappointed not to find it for sale in South Africa. To my great joy, I recently received this packet as a gift:
How grand can this be – loose leaves to boot! Russian Caravan tea is usually made up of a combination of Oolong (from the Wuyi Mountains) and Keemun (from the Anhui province) tea leaves grown in China. Who knows what wood was used for the campfires along the epic journey made by those early traders; this particular brand of Russian Caravan has withered the tea leaves over cedar and pine to obtain a flavour claimed to be more delicate than Lapsang Souchong.
The overall smoky flavour is a lot milder than Lapsang Souchong. It is this smokiness and other subtle aromas that combine to make this an evocative tea which has a warm and rustic taste.
I have noted before that Lapsang Souchong has a taste many people prefer not to acquire (it is a favourite of mine), but if you count among them I urge you to at least try the Russian Caravan – you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.