Continued from Tuesdays With Norwood: Mandarin and Muscovite – Part 2
Up until the 1770s, Russia had mostly bought brick tea for the Siberian market. From 1775 to 1800, however, the quantity of loose tea bought at Kayakhta climbed to over seven hundred tons a year, significantly more than the brick tea purchased annually. Russia’s legendary caravan tea, the loose tea bought as a luxury for Russia’s upper classes, dates from these last decades of the 1700s. This luxury tea trade grew almost tenfold in the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1817, it was employing some twenty-five hundred camels, while only a dozen years later caravans required almost ten thousand camels. (Less picturesquely, carts were also used.) It is not surprising that caravan teas cost Russians several times the price paid in England for similar quality, or that Romantic writers like Balzac extolled them.