Mama’s Russian Tea

5 from 2 votes

Warm and comforting, my Russian Tea is a cozy, tea-based drink that’s perfect for sharing. This favorite family recipe that’s been passed down for generations in my family.

Two glasses of Russian tea with cinnamon and star anise.

Fresh Russian Tea recipe

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 wintertime 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 this Southern tradition to make Russian Tea in the wintertime.

The recipe below doesn’t use any kind of instant mixes. It tastes so much better with real juices and spices! Trust me.

More holiday party drinks: Instant Pot Hot Chocolate • WassailDairy-Free EggnogJingle Juice

2023 Update: I updated this recipe to reflect my family recipe better. The original version of this recipe that I shared was a combination of my Mama’s and one I found in a cookbook, but I made it years later and it just didn’t live up to the one. I grew up with. Below you’ll find my beloved family recipe with only a couple slight modifications.

A cup of Russian tea with cinnamon and star anise.

Why you’ll love this recipe

You are going to adore this cozy Russian Tea recipe!

  • Served warm, this drink is oh-so-comforting and bright.
  • Made with whole spices, real fruit and fresh juices, this tea-based drink is full of flavor.
  • It’s a non-alcoholic drink that everyone in the family can enjoy.*

Serve it at everything from Thanksgiving dinner to Christmas Eve gatherings. It works for breakfast and brunch as well as evening parties. It keeps in the fridge, so you can make a big batch and warm it up when guests come over.

*But if you want to make it a cocktail, you totally can! Just add cinnamon whiskey, rum or brandy.

A cup of Russian tea with a cinnamon stick and sprigs of rosemary.

What is Russian Tea?

A lot like apple cider, Russian Tea is a tea-based hot drink steeped on the stove with spices, fruit, and juices. It was traditionally made with black tea, lemon juice, orange juice, pineapple juice, sugar (or honey), cinnamon and clove. Some recipes also call for apples and ginger as well.

The drink dates back to the early 1800s in Russia. Kompot is the name for a tea made from fruits and is enjoyed during the holidays. However, a version of this drink is very popular in the Southeastern United States, having found its way into church cookbooks and family traditions.

Many of the ingredients — tea, citrus, pineapple and spices especially — were imported, expensive and hard to find. Because of that, many modern recipes call for instant tea, powdered lemonade mix and orange juice like Tang.

My family’s Russian Tea recipe

My great-grandmother’s recipe is an old standby, and it’s great. Mama’s recipe calls for Lipton tea bags, sugar, both lemon and orange juice, a can of crushed pineapple and whole cloves. It is so flavorful, but I made a few key modifications:

  • Sweetness: Her recipe was very sweet, and I almost always cut the sugar in half (or more) and sweetened it to my liking. I’ve cut down on it a lot here.
  • Pulp: We have an ongoing family debate about whether the pulp is called “junk” or “trash.” Me? I’m team no-pulp, so I use juice instead of canned pineapple. (Sometimes, the fruity pulp gets a little intense!) The only fruit in my version is the garnish.
  • Freshness: One of my aunts taught me to use fresh (not canned) fruits and juices for a stronger, fresher flavor.
  • Better tea: Lipton tea is easy to find and works very well. But if you like tea, you might enjoy this drink with Ceylon tea, Earl Grey or English Breakfast. You can try it with other types of tea, too. Chai spice tea would be very good, but would definitely make this less Russian.
Two glasses of orange juice with cinnamon sticks and star anise, inspired by Russian tea.

Tools & glassware 

You don’t need a lot of special equipment to make Russian Tea.

At its simplest, you will need a pot or Dutch oven, some measuring cups and a wooden spoon. A ladle is helpful for serving from the hot pot. And you’ll of course need some heat-safe mugs.

If you will have any left over or want to make some to last a while, a pitcher or large mason jar is necessary for storing in the fridge.

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The recipe for a delicious homemade pineapple juice, perfect for any occasion. With just a few simple ingredients and minimal effort, you can create a refreshing and tropical drink that will transport your taste buds

Ingredients

Here’s what you’ll need to make my Russian Tea recipe:

  • black tea bags
  • water
  • pineapple juice
  • fresh orange juice
  • fresh lime juice
  • sugar
  • whole cloves

If you can, don’t skimp on the fresh juices. They are much brighter and less tart than the bottled concentrate, so juicing is well worth the effort.

Substitutions & variations

Try one of these variations on this recipe:

Hot or cold: 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! That would be great in the summer — this drink has a very tropical vibe so it would work well as a cold drink.

Boozy Russian tea: Want to make it boozy? It’s so good this way! Try it with brandy, whiskey or spiced rum.

Less bitter: If you are sensitive to the bitterness of tea, you can start with cold brew iced tea. It is less bitter than hot tea because the heat is what draws out the bitterness. However, be careful not to boil your Russian tea.

Pulp: If you want to make yours exactly like my Mama’s, use a 15.5-ounce can of crushed pineapple (and all of its juices) instead of the pineapple juice. It’s too pulpy for me though!

How to make Russian Tea

Here’s how to make this homemade, fresh Russian Tea recipe:

A pot filled with tea bags on a stove.
In this image, tea bags are delicately suspended inside a pot of water.

Get out a big pot or dutch oven and add the water. Bring it to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, turn off the heat and add the tea bags. Let them steep for 10 minutes, then remove the tea bags.

A yellow liquid is being carefully poured into a pot.
A person pouring lemon juice into a bowl of liquid.

Turn the heat back on to medium-low. Add the orange juice, pineapple juice and lemon juices to the tea mixture.

A delicious Russian tea being poured into a bowl.
A freshly cracked egg is gently poured into a measuring cup.

Add the sugar and cloves. Stir until sugar dissolves.

A pot of Russian Tea  with a spoon in it.
A person using a green spatula to stir a pot of Russian Tea.

Bring to a simmer for a few minutes, but don’t boil it. Then, keep warm on the stove or in a slow cooker and ladle into mugs. Garnish with orange slices and whole spices.

Let cool before storing in a pitcher or jar in the fridge for up to a week. It can be warmed again on the stove or in the microwave.

Tips & tricks

Here are some tips and tricks for making this recipe:

  • Use real juices, not powdered mixes or concentrate, for the best flavor.
  • If you don’t like pulp, strain the juices before you add them into the mix.
  • Take the presentation up a notch with a garnish of star anise, cinnamon sticks or citrus slices.
Two glasses of Russian tea with an orange slice.

What to serve with Russian Tea

Russian Tea is great to sip at home, curled up by the fireplace and Christmas tree, with a book in your lap. But it’s also a great holiday party drink.

You can enjoy this beverage with your favorite holiday treats, like rum balls or lemon drop cookies. Russian tea cakes are another must — these holiday cookies are to-die-for.

If you’re enjoying Russian tea with appetizers, some other Southern must-haves in my family are cheese straws, marinated cheese and sausage balls.

A cup of Russian tea with a cinnamon stick and star anise.

FAQ

What makes Russian tea different?

Russian tea is different from plain tea. It is made by combining black tea with fruit juices, sugar and spices, yielding a sweet, warm punch.

What does Russian tea taste like?

Russian tea has the deep, robust flavor of black tea plus hints of tart citrus, bright pineapple, warm spices and sweet sugar.

How do you drink Russian tea?

Russian tea is usually served warm and ladled into mugs. It can simply be sipped. However, it can also be enjoyed cold, like an iced tea.

More tea recipes

Two glasses of Russian tea with cinnamon and star anise.

Russian Tea

Yield: 14 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Russian Tea is a warm citrus punch that's perfect for a chilly day. Makes approximately 3 quarts.
5 from 2 votes
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ingredients

  • 2 quarts water
  • 10 tea bags such as English Breakfast or Lipton
  • 4 cups orange juice fresh-squeezed, pulp removed
  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • ½ cup lemon juice fresh-squeezed, pulp removed
  • 1 cup granulated sugar to taste
  • 10 whole cloves

instructions

  • 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 tea bags and discard.
  • Return the tea to medium-low heat. Add orange juice, pineapple juice, lemon juice, sugar and cloves. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
  • Bring to a simmer for 2 minutes, then lower the heat to keep warm or remove from heat. Serve warm, or allow to cool and serve iced.
  • Let cool completely. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.

notes

Here are some tips and tricks for making this recipe:
  • Use real juices, not powdered mix, for the best flavor.
  • If you don’t like pulp, strain the juices before you add them into the mix.
  • Take the presentation up a notch with a garnish of star anise, cinnamon sticks or citrus slices.

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nutrition information

Yield: 14 servings

amount per serving:

Serving: 8oz Calories: 98kcal Carbohydrates: 24g Protein: 1g Fat: 0.2g Saturated Fat: 0.03g Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.05g Monounsaturated Fat: 0.03g Trans Fat: 0.001g Sodium: 8mg Potassium: 174mg Fiber: 0.3g Sugar: 22g Vitamin A: 143IU Vitamin C: 40mg Calcium: 16mg Iron: 0.2mg
did you make this recipe?Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Instagram with the hashtag #feastandwestrecipes!
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Comments

  1. Erin @ The Speckled Palate says

    I love that your great grandmother made this tea during the wintertime and that you’re carrying on the tradition. What a lovely tradition to keep! I’m totally with you and enjoy the wintertime, as well. Mostly for the warm drinks and layers and any excuse to snuggle up in front of a fire, haha.

    I’ve never had Russian Tea before, but I really like the sound of this. Fruit and tea together makes me super happy, and the combination of everything in this sounds delightful. Totally gonna make a batch of this if it ever gets cold in Dallas again. (Now watch – it’s gonna get cold and ice/snow for Lady Baby’s birthday since it’s been so lovely this month. CALLING IT!)

  2. Erin says

    The tea looks gorgeous and I bet my kids would LOVE it if I made a big pot of this. Love all the flavors together. I haven’t ever had citrus brewed with the tea – so interesting. I have such fond memories of tea with my grandmother and my mother-in-law continues to have “tea parties” with my girls – continuing the tradition!

    • Susannah says

      Thank you, Erin! I bet your kids would love it too. I drank this a lot as a kid! You should definitely try combining tea and citrus juices. It makes a for a lovely flavor! I think it’s so cool you are teaching your girls about tea parties! We must cherish those memories.

  3. grace says

    what, no vodka? just kidding. 🙂
    i’m not a tea lover, but i have to admit that the ingredients in this are all wonderful and make it very appealing! thanks for sharing!

    • Susannah says

      Hah, surprising, right? You could TOTALLY spike it with vodka. Or rum! I tried it with rum recently and it made it so lovely and tropical. So worth it. Thanks for your comment, Grace!

  4. Somerset Spa Girl says

    I had heard of this sort of tea before but I wasn’t aware it was Russian! It looks so warming, perfect for the brutal cold of February!

  5. Rose Sinning says

    Ok I confess I am not techy…
    I can’t for the life of me find the actual recipe for your Russian Tea anywhere in this article.
    Help me out!

  6. Abigail says

    Has anyone tried this with any other type of tea? (Rooibos Chai or an herbal tea) Just trying to think outside the box for keeping the caffeine down since my kiddo does drink it. I don’t have decaf black tea and would rather not use it so looking for suggestions outside of that. However, loved this recipe and about to make it again for the 2nd time this season!

    • Susannah says

      Hey Abigail! I’m so glad to hear you love this recipe. It’s one of my favorites! I think you could absolutely use rooibos or chai for this. I’ve never tried it as my family always made it with black tea, but as an avid fan of rooibos and chai myself, I bet either one would be delicious. Let me know how it turns out! //susannah

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