Tea in Uzbekistan

Tea brewer is a man of appreciation in his community. Here is his common portrait: middle aged, robust, a bit stout, but not fat; has a round good-humoured face, not always lively, but invariably amiable. He knows everybody, and everybody knows him. He speaks little, does not intrude on a conversation with uncalled-for remarks. If asked, he is always ready to give a piece of practical advice. Good advice guarantees half of success. Tea brewer himself follows his grandfather's advice: do not save on tea! The pinnacle of a chaikhana is a Russian, sometimes a century-old samovar, most likely made in the town of Tula, with its both sides decorated with medals awarded to it at god-knows-what exhibitions. One can hardly fancy a chaikhana with no tea brewer, that is to say a self-service chaikchana, but to picture chaikhana without a samovar is totally impossible. Samovar has successfully ousted other heating appliances and it seems that modern gadgets are not likely to encroach ever upon the position of this 'dandy' with its brightly polished copper sides.

Chaikhana is usually located in picturesque surroundings, with trees spreading their branches above it and aryk (small irrigation canal) or a cozy khauz (pool) full of water being next to it. One of the usual appanages of chaikhana is a cage with bedana (quail) whose soft singing creates a serene atmosphere disposing to rest and leisurely chat.

Chaikhana is the right place for artists, too. They can find here attractive colorful characters that are leisurely drinking tea and do not hurry anywhere.

Talking of chaikhana one should not forget about tea itself. It was from China, or at least thanks to the Chinese, that this magic drink was opened to the modern world. The Chinese first took to the new habit of drinking the decoction of tea leaves shortly before the beginning of Common Era, when they were developing the territories of the Yangtze River basin. It is noteworthy to say that Chinese people never drink 'neutral' beverages or drinks that do not stimulate organism. Naturally enough, they enjoyed the new tonic, which they took over from the local people.

In the first centuries of Common Era tea drinking became widespread among the population of the southern and later among the northern regions of China. But only by the 10th century this habit gained general popularity, and tea became an article of export. Since then tea has been included into "seven essential ingredients" without which no meal can be cooked: these are salt, sauce made from soybeans, vinegar, rice, oil, firewood and tea, of course.

Nowadays millions of people in the world drink tea. It is drunk by Tibet nomads, who brew up brick-tea in a cauldron and then add milk, oil, salt, browned flour, sheep's fat, jerked beef and god-knows what other ingredients. The Japanese have made tea-drinking a ceremony, when a special sort of tea, ground to fine powder, is brewed up in a small quantity of water at the bottom of a cup and whipped up to froth with the help of a bamboo brush.

But all this is no more than exotics. Yet in every respectable chaikhana in Central Asia hot green or black tea is served in a porcelain pot. Connoisseurs still debate about the merits of black and green tea. But traditionally green tea is more popular among the Easterners, while black tea is far more preferable in the western countries.

As a rule, tea drinking is not a part of the usual meal, as tea is drunk with no additional refreshments. In Central Asia it is believed that Europeans lose a lot by making their tea sweet, especially with sugar. It is an oriental tradition to treat a guest to a cup of pure tea immediately after he or she comes into a house. Tea should be drunk while it is hot. It is generally accepted that the tea, which got cold, should be poured away and the cup should be refilled with a new portion of hot tea.

They say that one can learn rumours and the latest news at the bazaars. Much can be learnt at the bazaar, but this is not the right place to discuss the news because of too much noise and throng. The news should be discussed at chaikhana: a place destined for quiet and thorough talk. Anything can become the topic for discussion: cotton crop forecasts, cattle market fluctuation, what goods are currently in great request, what resorts are the best to go, the behavior of a new district militia officer, the quality of entertaining programs on TV; in short, everything from the current problems of makhalla (community) to international politics. Almost in every chaikhana there is its own trustworthy aksakal (respected old man), an 'informal leader', who expresses people's general opinion most properly.

Uzbekistan, traditionally, is a country of settled population with rather low migration index. Most people live in their native towns and villages all their lives. It seems just fair to conclude that 'a man is born and lives in makhalla, and makhalla pays him last respect'.

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