Previous in series: Tuesdays With Norwood: The Reception in Europe – Part 2

We are neither of the West nor of the East. We belong to that number of nations which does not seem to make up an integral part of the human race, but which exists only to teach the world some great lesson.

-Piotr Chaadaev, early nineteenth century Russian philosopher

About the time that first tea order from the Dutch Lords Seventeen reached their agent in the Orient, the Mogul emperor of north India (what is now Pakistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere), was entertaining the first agent or ambassador from his fellow despot to the north, Czar Michael Romanov, the founder of Russia’s Romanov dynasty. Though introduced to tea himself, the ambassador declined an offer to take a gift of it back to the czar as something his master would have no use for, thereby blowing one more chance the Russians had had to make tea’s acquaintance. They finally did so only after 1689, when Russia and China signed a treaty establishing a boundary between them and, at Chinese insistence, confining all trade between the two to a single spot on the frontier. In the middle of nowhere, thenceforth, at Usk Kayakhta, a thousand miles across the Gobi from Beijing and over four thousand from St. Petersburg, Russian caravans would arrive laden with furs to exchange with traders from Kayakhta’s Chinese counterpart a few hundred yards to the south, Mai-mai-cheng, or “Buy-Sell-City.” These miserable outposts were never to reflect the wealth that flowed through them over the ensuing centuries. Russian merchants bought more fine Chinese cotton than silk, strangely, but in time they bought more tea than anything else.

To be continued in Tuesdays With Norwood: Mandarin and Muscovite – Part 2