From-Scratch Russian Tea Recipe

Iced tea has a much-appreciated place in this world, but when temperatures drop and we need something a little more comforting, hot tea takes center stage as the winter beverage of choice. This from-scratch Russian tea recipe, brought to us by developer Michelle McGlinn, goes far beyond what your typical cup of tea might provide. Black tea serves as the base, but the real flavor comes from the addition of fresh orange juice, lemon, cinnamon, cloves, and just the right amount of sugar.

Interestingly enough, Russian tea isn't so much of a European thing as it is an American one. As McGlinn explains, "This is based on the tea served during Southern winters — less of an authentic Russian tea and more of a Southern American staple." It is likely that the tea's namesake does have some Russian influence, referring to the simpler combination of black tea and lemon once sipped on by 19th-century Russian aristocrats, but this spiced and sweetened version is uniquely American. "It's sweet (about as sweet as you'd like it)," McGlinn says, "and has a touch of wintery spices like cinnamon and clove." She also highlights Russian tea's similarity to a hot toddy. This recipe isn't for a cocktail, of course, but the warming combination of tea, citrus, and spices just may have an almost medicinal effect for those times when you feel under the weather.

Gather the ingredients for from-scratch Russian tea

As with any batch of tea, you'll need two essentials to kick things off: water and tea bags. In this case, you'll need black tea (to stay true to the Southern nature of this drink, opt for Lipton brand tea), and you'll enhance the flavors of the drink by adding in fresh orange juice and zest, lemon slices, a cinnamon stick, whole cloves, and sugar. 

Step 1: Add all but the tea bags to a pot

Combine water, orange juice and zest, lemon, cinnamon, cloves, and sugar in a small saucepan.

Step 2: Boil

Bring to a boil and stir until sugar is dissolved.

Step 3: Add tea bags and steep

Remove from the heat and add the tea bags. Steep for 5 minutes.

Step 4: Strain the tea

Remove the tea bags and strain the fruit and spices out.

Step 5: Sweeten to taste and serve

Add sugar, to taste, and serve warm.

Can you switch up the ingredients in Russian tea?

While you do need to include a handful of key ingredients — black tea, citrus, and spices — for this to be Russian tea, there is still plenty of room for customization. "You could theoretically add all sorts of things to Russian tea, such as nutmeg, vanilla, or even rum," McGlinn says. And, while we're on the topic of alcohol, she adds that "you can always add your favorite spirit to make it into a cocktail." While whiskey would make this beverage more similar to a hot toddy, you can experiment with your favorites to find your perfect boozy addition.

If you want to maintain the alcohol-free status of your Russian tea, then fear not, as there are still plenty of customizations to play around with. "Russian tea is sometimes shortcutted using Tang, a powdery citrus flavoring," McGlinn says, adding, "Personally, Tang is not my cup of tea (pun intended)! I think this tastes much better with orange juice and lemons." If you do happen to enjoy Tang, then you can omit the fresh citrus and just opt for the powder instead.

Speaking of citrus, there's also a little shortcut you can take with the orange juice that doesn't involve Tang, but it's another one that could compromise the flavor of the finished product. "You can always use bottled orange juice, but I'd highly recommend trying this with fresh fruit," says McGlinn. "The taste is fresh, delicate, and balanced."

When should you serve Russian tea?

Due to its warming nature, Russian tea is best enjoyed in the wintertime. Though, like any type of tea, it's certainly not limited to cooler months. Brew up a batch of this tea anytime you want a sweet and citrusy drink but also want something comforting — luckily, most of the ingredients are pantry staples. If you're familiar with tea, then you'll know that black tea is pretty high on the caffeine scale, so keep this in mind if you get the urge to make this recipe at night. Don't worry, as you can still enjoy the tea before bed, but as McGlinn advises, "If you make this as a nighttime tea, you may want to consider using decaffeinated tea."

As for what to pair this tea with, think tea party favorites such as little sandwiches and cute pastries. "This tastes great paired with tea sandwiches, scones, muffins, and breakfast pastries, and also works well at the end of the night paired with chocolate and sponge cake," McGlinn says. The spiced nature of the tea might also pair well with spiced baked goods like cinnamon coffee cake or classic Snickerdoodle cookies.

From-Scratch Russian Tea Recipe
5 from 38 ratings
This from-scratch Russian tea forgoes the prepackaged ingredients commonly found in the hot beverage and uses whole citrus and spice in its brew.
Prep Time
Cook Time
Russian tea with cinnamon stick
Total time: 12 minutes
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 oranges, juiced and zested
  • 1 lemon, sliced into rounds
  • 1 large cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • ¼ cup sugar, plus more to taste
  • 4 black tea bags
  1. Combine water, orange juice and zest, lemon, cinnamon, cloves, and sugar in a small saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar is dissolved.
  3. Remove from the heat and add the tea bags. Steep for 5 minutes.
  4. Remove the tea bags and strain the fruit and spices out.
  5. Add sugar, to taste, and serve warm.
Calories per Serving 89
Total Fat 0.2 g
Saturated Fat 0.0 g
Trans Fat 0.0 g
Cholesterol 0.0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 23.2 g
Dietary Fiber 2.8 g
Total Sugars 19.2 g
Sodium 11.6 mg
Protein 0.9 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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