Perhaps you have already wondered about the interesting name of this tea drink? Even for most Russians, the origin of the name remains a mystery.
Chances are you have already wondered what’s the reason behind this tea drink name. Moreover most Russians hardly know the answer to that question.
Today we’ll try to shed light on the most common theory.
The scientific name of Fireweed tea or Ivan Chai is Rosebay Willowherb or Epilobium angustifolium, but Russians usually go by Ivan Chai or Koporsky tea.
According to one of the legends there was a young lad who lived in a village near St. Petersburg, his name was Ivan. He used to wear a bright red shirt and was known to be a good herbalist. Days on end he would spend on the forest edges, collecting berries, herbs, roots and flowers. The locals knew the young man, and every time they saw a flickering red shirt between the trees, they exclaimed: "Ivan chai brodit!" (“This should be Ivan wandering about” - here there is a play of words - “chai” means tea in modern Russian, but it used to mean “should”).
But all of a sudden the lad disappeared. No one knew how or when this had happened. But from that time on scarlet flowers, that no one had seen before, started growing on the edges of the forest near the village. Every time people noticed these flowers they would habitually take them for Ivan’s scarlet shirt and would exclaim “Da eto Ivan chai!” (Oh it should be Ivan!”). Since then the new plant with bright flower heads was known as Ivan Chai. The name caught on and became popular. And once it was boiled, it turned out to be a very tasty and invigorating drink. Fireweed tea began to be harvested for future use by collecting and drying.
Koporsky tea is another name of Fireweed tea that began its story in a small town of Koporye, where it was known to be produced from 13th century. Once exported abroad, Europeans quickly learned about new Russian tea. Many preferred this drink due to its beneficial properties. There is also an assumption that the tea got its name precisely because it was Russian. All Russians used to be called Ivan abroad, so Ivan-Chai is another way of saying that the tea originates from Russia.
Of course now it’s hard to tell how and where such name came from, but the most important is that we still remember and drink this wonderful tea.
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