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The “Unknown” and the “Superfluous” : The Curious History of Tea in Seventeenth-Century Muscovy

Event Type
Russian, East European and Eurasian Center
Lucy Ellis Lounge, 1080 FLB
Jun 24, 2014   12:00 pm  
Audra Yoder, Ph.D. Candidate, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
Free and open to the public
Zsuzsanna Magdo
Originating Calendar
Russian, E. European & Eurasian Center: Speakers

The inhabitants of western Europe and Muscovy were first introduced to the so-called “colonial groceries” in the first couple decades of the seventeenth century. Unlike their neighbors to the West, however, Muscovites first encountered tea through direct overland contact with Central Asian, Siberian, and Chinese peoples. Though Muscovy shared borderland territories and a set of common political concerns with the Ming (and later Qing) dynasties and a variety of Eurasian khanates, Russians were much slower to embrace tea than the English and Dutch. The talk will narrate Muscovites’ reluctant acceptance of tea first as a medicine, and then as an elite beverage, over the course of the seventeenth century. It will explore the religious and economic factors influencing Muscovite reactions to the “unknown leaves of some sort,” as the earliest Russian source to mention tea colorfully put it. Their hesitant and qualified adoption of Chinese tea reveals that Russian attitudes toward foreigners and their customs were both nuanced and adaptable in the seventeenth century. By the time Peter the Great assumed power at the end of the seventeenth century, the ground had been prepared for Russian elites to adopt tea as a fashionable social pastime.

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