Presenting a tea that owes as much to politics and diplomacy as it does tea husbandry. The existence of Russian Caravan, a smoky blend of black teas, (traditionally comprised only of Chinese teas, in ours a blend of Chinese, Indian and Ceylon) is the direct result of a 1689 treaty between Qing Dynasty China and Russia. The treaty brought an end to decades of border conflict between Russian Cossacks and the Manchu people of Northern China. As part of the treaty, Russia agreed to give up its expansionist push eastward to the Sea of Japan, but gained direct trading access to Beijing. The treaty forever changed the way business was done between the two countries and produced a famous tea blend in the process.
The trail from the Chinese border to Russia covered more than 6000 km, (3728 miles) through harsh and unforgiving mountain passes, deserts and rivers. Caravans comprised of horses, camels, mules and men took more than a year and a half to complete the journey with may men and beasts perishing along the way. Even so, the route was a popular and lucrative one – in 1696 alone more than 50,000 rubles worth of furs made the voyage, a fortune in today's dollars. In addition to furs, one of the most important commodities on the trail was Chinese tea, imported to fulfill Russia's growing demand. As can be imagined, the tea took quite a beating on the grueling trip and often had an entirely different character by the time it was unloaded in Moscow. One of the most notable was the rich flavor of smoke, absorbed from a year and a half of campfires along the caravan trail.
Russians grew to love the smoky tea and dubbed it caravan tea. Eventually, with the advent of rail travel, the old trading routes died out and with them, the naturally smoked tea. To compensate, tea blenders began to create blends of Lapsang and other black teas to fill the void. To diplomacy!