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Russian Tea Recipe and Remembering Charlotte

Oh, the weather outside is frightful!  And, a fire would be so delightful – if there was one.   Since my fireplace remains in the same pristine state it was in when we built it fifteen years ago, (Don’t ask!), I’ve been looking for other ways to stay warm and toasty during this cold, damp and blustery wave of winter weather.   Of course, hot chocolate and coffee are obvious choices.  But, when I am chilled right down to my very bones, there is only one drink that truly warms me from the inside out, and that is Russian tea.

The first time I ever tasted Russian tea was shortly after I’d  pledged a sorority [1] during my freshman year in college.  The president of our chapter [2] was a senior named Charlotte, and I adored her.  She embodied the essence of everything that a well-bred young lady from the South should be.   Charlotte was cultured, understated, well-mannered and always impeccably groomed.  Even though she was only three years older than I was,  she exuded grace and maturity.   Charlotte was also a direct descendent of one of the actual founders of our sorority more than one hundred and twenty years ago.  And, she wore pearls… with jeans.  You just can’t get any cooler than that!

As a brand new college coed who had never been away from home before, I was always coming up against situations that I didn’t know how to deal with.  Whether my crisis of the day was about boys, a prickly professor or ruining my favorite sweater in the wash, Charlotte’s door was always open to me.  And as we sorted things out, we’d sip from steaming hot mugs filled with Charlotte’s fruity, spicy and infinitely comforting Russian tea.

This Russian tea that I’m talking about isn’t anything fancy or imported from anywhere exotic.  I don’t even think that it has any connection to Russia at all.  All of the ingredients are either already in your pantry or can be easily located in your local supermarket.

The first thing you’ll need is a container of Tang [3] orange flavored drink mix.  Yes, that Tang.  If it’s good enough for the astronauts, it’s good enough for me.

The next thing you’ll need is lemon-flavored, instant iced tea mix.

Does anyone actually use this stuff to make tea anymore?

And finally, you’ll need some ground cloves, cinnamon and lots of good, old-fashioned granulated sugar.

Just mix everything together in a jar with a tight fitting lid and you’re good to go.  Or, you could shake the jar as you dance wildly around your kitchen.  That works too.

So, do you think I’m crazy yet?  I thought so.  But, trust me.  This magical combination of these slightly questionable ingredients makes the most indescribably delicious hot drink that will make you feel cozy right down to your toes.

Russian tea is also a great drink to serve during the Holiday season.  There’s something about a hot, citrusy brew laced with sugar and spice that just screams Christmas to me.  Don’t spread this around, but I’ve also been known to turn a mug of the stuff into a hot toddy by adding some dark rum or brandy to it.  Wassail [4], anyone?

I’ve seen a few different recipes for Russian tea floating around the web, but this one is the recipe that Charlotte’s grandmother gave to her and that she, in turn, gave to me.   I wouldn’t dream of making it any other way.

I’ve often wondered whatever happened to Charlotte.  We’d lost touch by the time I graduated from college.  I hope she is well and that life has treated her kindly.  And, I hope that she thinks of me fondly every once in a while, as I do her.  The gifts of friendship and sisterhood that she gave me all those years ago were much more than this recipe for Russian tea.