Social History of Tea

From Russia with (Sweet) LOVE

At a runway show during Toronto fashion week last fall, I found a small bright pink tin of Kusmi Sweet Love tea in a gift bag. I thought the packaging and theme would be perfect for the love-fest that we know as Valentine’s Day. I’ve recently unpacked and sampled it. Sweet Love’s China black tea base is perfumed with all-natural aromatic morsels of cardamom, cinnamon, sweetness of licorice root, guarana seeds and pink pepper. I’m not a big fan of teas with added flavours, but this one is similar to a traditional chai, with even more exotic notes and since I love chai, I love Sweet Love. It has such a colourful aroma that I have to store it separately from my single estate teas, so as not to influence them. It is a relatively new tea in the Kusmi line up, having been introduced to Europe in 2009 and available in Canada in 2010. In September 2009, Kusmi opened a boutique in Montreal, offering the full range of Kusmi’s Russian-style tea blends.

Lavender scones, Ceylon infused truffles, Matcha shortbread, marzipan cutouts and Sweet Love from Kusmi Tea. The sweet heady aroma was a charming distraction during the photo shoot.

Family Kousmichoff

Kusmi Teas, shortened from Kusmichoff, was founded in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 1867 by Pavel Michailovitch Kousmichoff. At a young age he learned the art of tea blending from a master blender and eventually married and opened his own shops. After the Russian revolution (1917), the family moved to France – a smart move since they had been suppliers to the Czar and his family. The company has changed hands a few times and is now owned by Sylvain Orebi, of Orientis. In the past decade he has worked on the packaging and product, but has remained true to the original Kousmichoff blends. Troika, Anastasia, Samovar and Prince Vladimir are a few that retain their Russian references and recipes.

Kusmi Troika tins, then and now: left, A tin from 1990 in its original packaging, given to me by a friend, but too stale to bother opening. Right, the Kusmi Troika blend today in its new, but similar packaging.

La pâtisserie délicate

Kusmi tea is served up locally in a number of establishments. My favourite is Nadège. It is one of Toronto’s finest pâtisseries. Located on W.Queen West, it prepares on site, the freshest baked croissants in the city along with an array of macarons, tartes and other mouth-watering confections. Nadège is named for its 4th generation pastry chef and chocolatier Nadège Nourian, a native of Lyon France. Nadège serves only Kusmi teas. They are Kusmi teabags, but they are lovely muslin bags, hand-stitched, containing whole leaves.

Nadege: Clockwise from top: Signature gift boxes; The patisserie counter; Kusmi teas on offer; shadow of a patron opening Valentine gift; gateaux et chocolats; love-fest decor

Have you tried Kusmi teas? Do you have a favourite? Mine is Sweet Love. It will be my tea of choice on February 14th. I’m sure however, that I’ll enjoy it anytime time I want to escape from the doldrums and find distraction in it’s naturally redolent and spicy liquor.