It seems like Russians are always drinking something, if not beer and vodka, then a cup of tea. Tea is more popular than coffee, and often served black with a spoonful sugar or jam. Most coffee is instant, and it may require a visit to a decent local café for a decent cup of coffee. It was introduced to Russians by Peter the Great back in the 17th century.
Bottled mineral water is also available almost everywhere, and is usually carbonated. I am told to avoid tap water in St. Petersburg since it has giardia. And everywhere in the world, Coca Cola is available, along with home-grown versions such as Takhun.
But on the train, boiled water is available from the samovars in each carriage. One good tip I received by reading these travel books is to carry a thermal mug for my tea and coffee drinking convenience. I also brought many packages of Starbucks instant coffee.
The local beers can vary in taste and quality. One beer like fermented mixture of stale brown bread, yeast, malt sugar and water is kvas. It is a refreshing summer cooler, sold on the streets from yellow tankers, and has a low alcohol content. The age limit does not seem to apply here.
Since Russia is synonymous with vodka, the amount of beer consumed is rather surprising. It does not matter time of day, beer is cheap and plentiful. The best according to my friends are Baltika, Bochka, and Bochkarev, otherwise known as the three B’s.
Getting back to vodka, Russians drink it straight. Contrary to many beliefs, vodka originated in Poland, although some say it was brought back by Peter the Great from Holland. Vodka is served ice-cold, and drained in a single gulp from a shot glass. One famous saying is that ‘drinking vodka without beer is like throwing money to the wind”. It is considered impolite to refuse to drink vodka with the Russians.
I hear Russian champagne is surprisingly good. It is both dry and very cheap according to what I read. Perhaps I will pick up some adult beverages in Japan before I head over to Russia at the start of my trip. The champagne so far has been either cheap Italian or Spanish sparkling wines.
I have managed to stay sober so far. Of course, it helped that my best new Russian friend drinks only non-alcoholic beer. We must have drunk about a half-dozen of them on the day I met him. Imagine my surprise, when he started drinking it again the next morning, even before his morning tea or coffee!
We did share a nice vodka toast with a nice German couple from Leipzig on the first leg. They were next door to the cabin that I shared with my Swiss friend, Michael. Since he speaks German, and has actually lived there in the past, it was a good match. So, the night before our farewells, we had a vodka toast, and some world philosophy, in German, Russian, some English, with mostly smiles and laughter. It was the way it should be!!!