Glimpses of Tea History

The Russian Brick Tea Trade

Courtsey: ALL ABOUT TEA by William H. Ukers

About 1850, the Russians began buying tea at Hankow, the great commercial center of the interior of China, located on the north bank of the Yangtse River at its junction with the Han and approximately 600 miles from the sea coast.

Hankow then was the central market for China’s best black tea districts, and here the Russians came to buy Congou but later they bought the brick tea which the Chinese had long been engaged in making for the Mongolian trade.

In 1861, the port of Hankow was thrown open to foreign trade and the Russians built the first of their brick tea factories there. They pressed tea bricks after the Chinese fashion by a number of men tugging at a huge lever press or twisting the screw of a device much like a wine press. Later, steam was introduced, and in 1878 the hydraulic press came into use.

At first, odd lots of tea dust were used for making Russian bricks, but as the trade progressed better quality was required and machinery was installed to mill tea into dust. Ultimately, the quality of some of the brick teas for home use in Russia was so improved that they sold for as much, if not more, than the Congou, or uncompressed leaf.

In later years, considerable quantities of India, Ceylon, and Java tea dust were imported to augment the available supplies of raw material for the ;manufacture of brick tea.