Russians probably won’t recognize much about the drink known as Russian Tea in the southern United States. That’s because this church cookbook staple isn’t Russian at all. Recipes for the sweet, spiced hot beverage vary, but typically include some form of black tea, fruit juice (lemon, orange, and/or pineapple), cloves, and cinnamon.
American recipes for the drink date back to the late 19th century, when according to Garden & Gun, well-to-do Yanks adopted the Russian style of serving tea with lemon and sugar. As the blog Yesterdish notes, the name Russian Tea initially referred to a simple iced brew with lemon. Over time, it evolved into a hot beverage that could be flavored with oranges instead of lemons and jazzed up with vanilla, rum, spices, and preserved cherries.
By the 1960s, Russian Tea had shed its aristocratic cachet in favor of mid-century convenience. The tea in question was often instant, and the fruity flavor came from powdered orange Tang, lemonade mix, or both. Today, it’s still a favorite in the South, particularly around Christmastime.