An online contact mentioned plans to visit Kazakhstan–not in relation to tea–and it seemed interesting to do research related to an unknown country, removed from even the vague hearsay one might catch about a country like Turkey. Some hearsay about tea in Turkey: they drink typical black tea there not so different than Assam or Ceylon, brewed strong, taken with sugar but no milk. But that’s only what I’ve been told by a couple of people there.
I’ve researched local tea culture in preparation for trips to Korea, Japan, and Indonesia in the last year–with mixed results–and the review process itself was interesting. In addition to tea background, I ran across some interesting tangents in those searches, like finding a traditional medicine / herb market in Seoul, where I did find green tea, just not the quality level I was hoping to find.
|Background / what to see in Kazakhstan:|
The world’s ninth-biggest country is the most economically advanced of the ‘stans’, thanks to its abundant reserves of oil and most other valuable minerals. This means generally better standards of accommodation, restaurants and transport than elsewhere in Central Asia. The biggest city, Almaty, is almost reminiscent of Europe with its leafy avenues, chic cafes, glossy shopping centres and hedonistic nightlife. The capital Astana, on the windswept northern steppe, has been transformed into a 21st-century showpiece with a profusion of bold futuristic architecture.
Moving their capital city from Almaty to Astana essentially meant building a new city from the ground up. This planned-city capital theme comes up in Australia, Malaysia, and even Washington DC. The same happened here in Thailand, just awhile back, with modern planning results thrown off by replacing a canal system with roads.
Wikipedia covers the general level of background detail well, explaining that 63% of the 17+ million people are ethnically Kazakh, 70% are Muslim, and so on. Due to Soviet influence–from being a part of USSR–use of their original language has been joined by Russian. Of course, not that many people are still living in yurts (nomadic tents), with current housing options separated by price and style, from Soviet-era apartments on the low end to condos and houses beyond that.
No dedicated tea shops turn up as Trip Advisor reviews, so apparently the tea cafe scene isn’t much yet.
Russian / Soviet tea history:
Prior to Soviet inclusion (as part of the USSR) related to a nomadic culture, the tea history was probably not unlike Mongolia, especially since they were conquered by Mongolia at one point. Russian tea history initially had close ties with China, not just during that brief communist common-ground phase but well prior; but the Eastern-bloc fall-out Soviet cultures switched completely over to black teas from other places, and this is essentially where they stand today. Here is more on Russian tea history cited from an interesting Tea Tips site related reference:
In 1567, Cossack atamans (chieftains), Petrov and Yalyshev, visited China, where they tried a local drink — tea. In 1638, an ambassador, Vasily Starkov, brought a present to the Russian Tsar from one of the Mongol khans — 64 kg of tea.
So far so good. Those may be the same teas we order from China today, some maybe not, seems likely less black teas in that time period, but to jump ahead:
In 1970, for the first time in several centuries, the supplies of tea from China were cut off — due to political discrepancy between the two countries. Soviet tea industry could not meet the demand in full — the USSR began to import tea from India and Sri-Lanka. Our citizens appreciated Indian and Ceylon teas, and they forgot Chinese teas very quickly — nowadays, the share of Chinese teas in the Russian tea market is hardly higher than 5%.
Regional drinks: Kazakh tea or chai is very popular and there are national cafes called Chai-Khana (tea-rooms) where visitors may sip this Kazakh speciality. It is drunk very strong with cream.
Of course, since chai just means tea in some languages–“cha” instead in Thai–this doesn’t clarify if anything was mixed with it, as with masala chai, the tea and ginger and various spices blend from India.
“Tea In Kazakhstan” will resume next week.