Warm and comforting, Russian Tea is a favorite family recipe that’s been passed down for generations in my family. Today I’m taking it up a notch with a few modifications of my own!
The cold weather is back. Even though I’m writing this with a thick blanket draped over my lap and my space heater aiming at my feet, I’m okay with it.
I know I’m in the minority, but I love winter.
Particularly, the coziness of winter.
Perhaps it’s the fact that the summer sun burns my skin or maybe it’s the lovely bulk of winter clothing, or maybe it’s just that I like to stay inside and drink warm beverages. Maybe all of the above.
It’s been a long time since I shared a family recipe on here, and I couldn’t think of a better one than my family’s favorite winter drink, Russian Tea.
To be honest, this tea is really more of a punch, and it’s more Southern than it is Russian.
This is the beverage my great-grandmother served at gatherings from November to February, whether it was book club with her best ladies or the family Christmas Eve get-together.
I was young when she passed away (at age 102!), but I still remember her making a huge pot of Russian Tea on the stove, its spiced aromas wafting throughout her house when you walked in the door.
Now, my aunts, grandmother and parents carry on the Southern tradition to make Russian Tea in the wintertime.
A lot like apple cider, Russian Tea is steeped on the stove with spices and fruits. And tea, of course.
My great-grandmother’s recipe calls for Lipton tea bags, sugar, lemon and orange juice, a can of crushed pineapple and cloves.
Her recipe is very sweet, and I almost always cut the sugar in half (or more) and sweeten it to my liking. Sometimes the fruit pulp gets a little intense — you either like it or you don’t, but you can strain it out if you’re not a fan.
(There’s a family debate about whether the pulp is called ‘junk’ or ‘trash.’ Me? I’m team no-trash.)
My great-grandmother’s recipe is an old standby, and it’s great. One of my aunts taught me to use fresh (not canned) fruits and juices for a stronger flavor.
But even still, I’ve always felt this Russian Tea recipe was missing something.
Recently, my dad showed me an old cookbook he came across that has recipes from my great-grandmother’s era. In this cookbook is a recipe for Russian Tea that’s much different from the one I’m used to — but not in a bad way.
(And yes, there are bad Russian Tea recipes. Some of the ones I’ve seen online call for gross stuff like Tang and instant tea.)
For example, there’s no pineapple in the old cookbook recipe, but it does call for apples and cinnamon sticks, two things my great-grandmother’s does not.
Because I’ve been wanting to tweak the family recipe for years, I decided to merge these two recipes and see where it took me. The result was perfect. Exactly what I’d been looking for. I also decided to throw in some candied ginger for an extra bite.
A big pot of Russian Tea is a recipe fit for any chilly day. You can also drink it cold, with ice, if you prefer!
Actually, that would probably be quite lovely in the summer too. But for now I’ll keep savoring the winter weather. // susannah
- 9 English Breakfast tea bags
- 2 quarts water
- 1 medium apple
- 2 large lemons
- 1 medium pineapple, cored
- 1 quart fresh-squeezed orange juice
- 1/2 cup to 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, to taste
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 8 whole cloves
- 4 to 6 pieces candied ginger
- In a large pot, bring water to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat. Add tea bags. Let steep until rich in color, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and discard tea bags.
- While the tea is steeping, prepare the fresh produce. Quarter the apple. Halve and deseed the lemons. Juice the lemons — do not discard rinds. Dice the pineapple into 1- or 2-inch pieces. If you prefer more pulp, place the pineapple into the blender on the 'chop' setting.
- Place the pot of tea on medium heat. Stir in the orange juice, 1/2 cup sugar, apple, lemon juice, lemon rinds, pineapple and any juices. Add the cinnamon sticks, cloves and candied ginger. Stirring frequently, bring to a simmer (not a boil) and reduce the heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 2 hours. (The longer it cooks, the stronger the flavors will be.)
- Remove the apple, lemon rinds and spices. If desired, strain out the pulp. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week. Serve warm, or allow to cool and serve iced.