Foiled but not defeated, I resumed my quest for drinkable tea in Philadelphia. It had been a mistake to attempt using the hotel room coffeemaker to boil water, I found. The water did not even reach the tepid mark, and as I was jonesing for my morning cup of Keemun prior to venturing forth into the lecture-hall for the day, I foolhardily steeped a sachet of Tea forte's Earl Grey -carefully packed in my luggage the night before- in this water. Mon dieu, it was truly unpotable. Neither fish nor fowl, it sent me forthwith to the elevators, down to the hotel dining room where within minutes, I was ensconced in a plushy seat with a pot of boiling water and Dammann Freres Gout Russe tea.
This black tea was aptly redolent of a citrusy scent, inspired by the Russian habit of taking tea -usually a strong black one- with orange or lemon slices. My black tea base itself was a melange of various Chinese teas that melded well with the the added orange essence.
Between spoonfuls of warm oatmeal -its spartan nubbiness offset by generous scoops of the now melted brown sugar along with fresh berries- and sips of the pleasing hot tea, I conjured up the harried Olga Mihailovna of Chekhov's wonderful short story, The Name-Day Party. Along with her husband, Olga and her guests set out in canoes across the river to a small peninsula where tables were already laid under the trees; the samovars smoking for tea. Concentrated black tea ( the zavarka), stored in a teapot which sits atop the urn-like samovar, is poured into a teacup or glass when tea is desired. Hot water, from the lower part of the samovar, is then poured from a spigot to dilute the tea before one drinks it.