Human beings have been brewing tea for thousands of years, often wrapping the act in layers of ritual. But leave it to the hurry-up age of convenience to come up with an instant mix to provide a quick version of tea's warm comfort for cold days.
One of the most enduring is a mix usually called Russian tea. Early versions were based on Tang, an instant orange drink that had its roots in the space program as one of many powdered foods developed for astronauts to mix and consume during space flights.
I've always enjoyed that juxtaposition - space-age technology harnessed to create an easy version of a treat that stretches back centuries.
The name "Russian tea" is a reference to Russia's wholehearted embrace of this ancient beverage. If you have ever seen one of those big, glorious samovars designed to take center stage in a cold room and heat the water for as many as 40 cups of tea, you have some idea of how important tea became, especially during those cold Russian winters.
The name is also a nod to the Russian preference for sweetened tea laden with citrus and other spices. Russian tea mix has more orange flavor than tea.
One reader, Beth Edelstein, sent her version of the recipe and said that it's "especially terrific with a shot of rum or whiskey on a cold night" and that it can be a fine gift when placed in an attractive jar and tied with a ribbon. Her recipe spices the Tang and instant tea with cinnamon and cloves. Another reader, Rita Gifford of Lutherville, also adds lemonade mix for another layer of citrus flavor.
Traditional tea drinkers have their own noninstant version - less convenient, of course, but worth the extra effort for those occasions when the brewing tea is a rewarding ritual.
Whether you prefer to mix or brew, you can count on orange-spiced tea to offer comfort on cold days.
5 whole cloves
peel of half a lemon
2 cinnamon sticks
4 tea bags of black tea
4 teaspoons sugar
Slice an orange in half, and stud one half with the cloves, reserving the other half for another use. Place the studded orange half in a square of cheesecloth along with the lemon peel and cinnamon sticks, and tie with kitchen string.
Place the tea bags and spice sachet into a teapot. In a separate pot, bring 3 cups of water to a boil, pour into teapot, and allow to steep for 3 minutes, or until it reaches the desired strength. Remove tea bags and sachet, and pour the tea into mugs or cups, with 1 teaspoon of sugar stirred into each.
- "Hot Toddies" by Christopher B. O'Hara (Clarkson Potter, $16.95, 2002)
Per serving: 16 calories; 0 grams protein; 0 grams fat; 0 grams saturated fat; 4 grams carbohydrate; 0 grams fiber; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 0 milligrams sodium
Russian Tea Mix No. 1
Makes about 2 1/4 cups of mix
1 1/3 cups Tang
1/3 cup instant tea, plain
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cloves
Combine, and store in a tightly covered container. For 1 serving, place a rounded teaspoon in a cup, and add boiling water.
- Beth Edelstein
Per serving: 13 calories; 0 grams protein; 0 grams fat; 0 grams saturated fat; 3 grams carbohydrate; 0 grams fiber; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 0 milligrams sodium
Russian Tea Mix No. 2
Makes about 4 1/2 cups of mix
2 cups powdered orange-flavored drink such as Tang
3/4 cup dry instant tea
2 tablespoons dry lemonade mix
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Mix ingredients in large bowl. Store in a tightly covered container. Use 1 to 2 teaspoons of mix per teacup of hot water.
- Rita Gifford
Per serving: 15 calories; 0 grams protein; 0 grams fat; 0 grams saturated fat; 4 grams carbohydrate; 0 grams fiber; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 0 milligrams sodium