The notion “напиток” (“a beverage”) appeared in the Russian language at the beginning of the previous century. This word has original Russian roots and comes from the verb “напитать” (“to imbue”), that means to feed, to satiate. Initially, Russian beverages were related only to filling and nourishing liquids that did not contain alcohol.
Long before the Slavs first got to know about coffee, black and green tea, there had been traditional Russian beverages that did not yield to them in flavor richness and healing power. Almost all original Russian drinks are special in their own sense, no similar beverages can be found in any other national cuisine. First of all, these are sbitens, kvasses, morses, meads, beverages made of fruit, spices and alcohol, wheys with raisin, and boiled down cabbage juice, as well as tea made of dried rosebay leaves, that is Ivan Chai.
Some had a calefactory effect (spicy teas, meads, sbitens) and due to it they were used mainly in winter, others refreshed, toned up (kvasses, morses, herbal infusions), and were right for hot days or for satisfying thirst in the Russian sauna.
Many of the above mentioned traditional Russian beverages are out of use nowadays. And in the time out of mind they were used as drinks to go with poultry and meat dishes, porridges or as a dessert. Out of many Russian national beverages of the past, modern generation seems to have special affection only for kvass. And nowadays this excellent grain beverage appeals not only to adults, but to children as well.
And in the past, besides kvass, which is so beloved nowadays, sbiten was a national Russian beverage, which became widely spread in Russia before the XX century. Main ingredients of this refreshing beverage traditionally include honey, herbs and spices. It was prepared by boiling and reducing the solution of honey with hops, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, pepper, nutmeg and bay leaf. Sbitens were drunk only hot, they warmed up really well in cold winter days. Besides, a hot honey beverage was an excellent sedative, it improved mood, facilitated falling asleep, boosted immunity and favored longevity.
Ancient Russian beverages also list meads, or nectars, that were prepared on water adding honey and hops, as well as matured meads – strong meads on grain wine and berry juices. Light alcoholic meads and sbitens were especially popular also due to the fact that honey in Russia in those times was much cheaper than sugar. Meads were boiled from raisin, cherry, cranberry, birch juice and lime blossom. Both sbitens and meads excellently improve immunity during colds, have an anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and germicidal effect.
The basis of morses and beverages made of fruits, spices, and alcohol has always been berry juice, mixed in different proportions with water and infused till the light degree of attenuation. Wheys were prepared in the same way, but raisin was used instead of juice. In modern Russia, morses made of fresh fruit or berries adding boiled water, natural honey or sugar syrup have become most wide-spread. Beverages made of fruits, spices, and alcohol as well as morses can be used both hot, especially in winter time, and as a cooling drink in summer. Nutritional substances in their fruit and berry contents excellently satisfy thirst, refresh, remove fatigue, invigorate, energize, boost immunity and slow down the aging processes of the organism.
Not only sbitens had nationwide recognition in old Russia, but also a large number of different kinds of kvass known since 1056 with its classical recipe preserved till nowadays. The essence of its making is that first batter is made on the basis of water, malt, rye and barley flour, it is so-called wort, then it is subject to fermentation and again mixed with water together with honey, sugar, syrup, yeast and flavoring materials, and then it goes through fermentation again. Fruit and berry juices are most often used as flavoring materials, for example, raspberry, cherry, currant, cowberry, apple, pear, lemon. Sometimes ginger, raisin and peppermint are added. It must be noted that, when fruit compounds are added to kvass, its healing properties increase by multiple times.
Kvass that is properly made excellently satisfies thirst, normalizes digestion, eliminates disbacteriosis and inflammations in the stomach and the bowels, has a light purgative effect and positively influences the heart and the vessels. Kvass is helpful during gastritis accompanied by hypoacidity, colitis and obesity. In imperial Russia, kvass was made in every home, it helped against scorbutus, healed wounds and was used in saunas. Besides, kvass is a natural remedy for vitamin deficiency, as it contains a lot of vitally important vitamins and microelements: practically whole vitamin B complex, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus as well as lactic acid and amino acids.
In many commercial Russian cities, there have always been kvass rows, no fairs and festival spots could do without them. Moscow was well-known for its kvass rows.
One of the beverages forgotten nowadays is Ivan Chai, which has been known in Russia more than 1000 years ago. It was made of dried rosebay leaves. Information about it can be found in ancient manuscripts, it was known and acknowledged in Europe. Since the XIII century, Ivan Chai has been called Coporsky in the name of Coporye where it was manufactured in big amounts and where from it was exported to many European countries.
Our remote ancestors could make flavored, tasty and healing tea, which was extremely popular in Europe and became well-known as “Russian tea”. English monarchs and aristocrats, known throughout the world for their affection for tea, were the main admirers of its unique features. Having Indian colonies in possession and being able to drink green and black tea of high quality, they could select and compare the best tea varieties of the world and still they favored Ivan Chai. An article about this unique original Russian beverage was added to the Big British Encyclopedia. But soon Indian tea appeared on the Russian market as well as other beverages of different nationalities, and this traditional Russian harsh and flavored beverage was undeservingly forgotten. And it is not only tasty, but also exceptionally useful: it contains a unique set of microelements, it has iron, nickel, copper, manganese, titanium, molybdenum, boron, lithium, magnesium, calcium, sodium and potassium. The amount of ascorbic acid in it is 5-6 times higher than in lemons. Besides, Ivan Chai contains a lot of protein, which allows to quickly regain strength and energize.
Ivan Chai has anti-inflammation, anastaltic, antipyretic, analgesic properties, it soothes in cases of neural irritability and stress, disillusions, removes food and alcoholic intoxication, refines blood, invigorates in cases of physical attenuation, improves immunity, reduces blood pressure, removes cholesterol, facilitates cicatrization of gastric ulcer and lithonephria, normalizes liver and milt functioning, helps get rid of prostatitis and prostatic adenoma, improves hematopoiesis process and facilitates women’s periods. “Ivan Chai not only heals the body and enlightens the mind, but it also reinforces the spirit”, - the ancient Russian proverb says.
Separately, but together with all other different Russian beverages, there exist alcoholic ones, which became known in Russia not later than in the 14th century according to chronicles, when in Moscow principality a strong alcoholic beverage made of grain and called grain or hot wine was put into production.
What is grain wine? It is an alcoholic drink made using a method of fermentation and further distillation of produced home brew. It was called grain because grain was used for its production – the most popular product of that time: bread was made of it, porridges and, of course, it was used for alcoholic drinks production. Brass distillation cubes were used for this purpose. Brass absorbs unnecessary additives that settle on the walls of the cube during the distillation process, and helps make the taste of the beverage softer and the flavor of the beverage more pleasant – this effect was noticed by distillers in the Middle Ages. As a result, the final beverage smelt and tasted like fresh bread.
By the way, the same method – distillation in a brass cube – was used for all strong drinks known in the world without any exceptions, including Scotch and French cognac. Each nation used the things that were at their disposal – grapes, apples, or like Russians – grain.
The “Golden Age” of the Russian grain wine started with the famous act issued by Ekaterina II, who provided noblemen with a right to produce this alcoholic beverage free of duty if it was meant for their own usage, but not for sale. Finally, Russia had its own know-how in the methods of production and refinement of produced alcohol. By 1860, according to statistics there were 5160 enterprises producing grain wine. In the same year, there were produced and drunk 70 million buckets or almost 1.4 billion liters of the beverage!
Till the end of the 19th century, grain wine was the primary alcoholic drink of the Russian empire. Its fate of national wealth was predetermined in 1894, when state monopoly for strong alcoholic drinks trade was introduced.
This beverage was officially referred to as “vodka” for the first time in 1936, its strength was defined as 40 degrees, and the unified state standard for its production was put into force.
What happened with grain wine? Officially – it ceased to exist, and in real life – it continued to be produced and is still produced in spite of prohibitions. It is now called samogon. But this is modern history, which in some form will be presented on the website of “Original Russian beverages” as well as in the drinks that you will get to know with our help.
It is difficult to overestimate the influence of traditional Russian beverages on the health of our population, especially nowadays, when there is industrial mass production of beverages with coloring and flavoring additives that can irrecoverably harm an organism. But nothing prevents us from appealing to the experience of our remote ancestors and at least sometimes letting ourselves and our close ones have a couple of drops of beverages made by old Russian recipes, which will not only warm us up in piercing winter frosts or cool us during hot summers, but also inspire us.