Russian Tea with Natural Options!
Hot, sweet & flavored with orange, lemon, cinnamon & cloves, Russian Tea makes a warming & restorative winter beverage. AKA Friendship Tea.
It’s a drink I remember fondly. Brought by a friend and poured from a thermos after a cold winter ballet class, it was amazingly restorative following the brutal workout!
I’ve thought about the drink over the years and my one hesitation in making it now was the ingredient list. With Tang orange drink plus lemonade mix, it was both high in sugar and far from natural. In my teens, I could handle it, with a heavy dance schedule and youth on my side.
Now, fighting middle-aged spread, not so much.
So, I gave it a makeover with options you can pick depending on your specific dietary goals. Where there’s a will there’s a way!
What is Russian Tea?
This version of “Russian Tea” is a drink popular in the U.S., especially in the South. It’s usually made from instant tea, sweetened orange powder (usually Tang), lemonade mix and spices. Sometimes it’s even made up fresh with orange juice, etc.
It doesn’t have a strong connection to tea served in Russia though there is a tea there brewed from concentrate and served sweet, with lemon, that this may be partly derived from. And I’ve also heard it called “Friendship Tea” or “Spiced Tea” or “that tea with Tang”!
Why You’ll Love This
Restorative. I’m really not sure why (especially now that I’ve removed the sugar from mine), but this drink is very restorative. Even though my ballet days are over, it’s a wonderful reward on a cold winter night–or after any kind of busy and exhausting day!
Easy. The base jar is easy to mix up with just a few ingredients. And once it’s done you just mix some into a mug of hot water.
Healthier. I was sure happy when they declared coffee (more or less) healthy! Now I love having another hot beverage that is guilt free!
Looking for Natural Ingredient Options
The original recipe had two ingredients that were of more concern.The first was Tang Orange Drink, which lists the following ingredients:
SUGAR, FRUCTOSE, CITRIC ACID (PROVIDES TARTNESS), CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF NATURAL FLAVOR, ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C), MALTODEXTRIN, CALCIUM PHOSPHATE, GUAR AND XANTHAN GUMS (PROVIDE BODY), SODIUM ACID PYROPHOSPHATE, ARTIFICIAL COLOR, YELLOW 5, YELLOW 6, BHA (TO HELP PROTECT FLAVOR).
The mix, once dubbed “the drink of the astronauts,” was still “modern” in the mid-70s when I drank this.
But now I ended up using some Tangerine juice powder plus a Monkfruit/Erythritol sweetener that measures like sugar. Sugar or other sweeteners could also be used in place of the Monksfruit/Erythritol blend.
Now as a heads up, the tangerine juice powder doesn’t fully dissolve in the hot water. But the beautiful orange flavor was still there, either by partly dissolving or steeping. I ignored a very small amount of residue left, like ignoring the cocoa that sinks to the mug bottom. But the final taste was just as I remembered.
The next ingredient on my swap list was the lemonade mix. Here, I have tried a few options. I first used diet Crystal Light to reduce the calories but I prefer to avoid aspertame, so I wanted some alternatives. I next checked out Pure CItrus Lemon, which is sweetened with stevia and a hint of sugar–which I liked. And finally I tried powdered lemon juice plus sweetener like I did for the Tang (allulose with monkfruit this time). I also liked this.
And if you’re not avoiding sugar, of course you can consider a packaged option with sugar.
How to Make Russian Tea
Russian Tea is super easy to make and my recipe will make about 12 large cups of tea. You start by mixing the dry ingredients, then stir or cover and shake to mix well.
To prepare a serving, mix a Tablespoon of mix with about 12 ounces of boiling water, or to taste.
Let steep/cool for a minute for best flavor—and to reduce risk of hot water injury! Then enjoy!
As near as I can figure my final drink has about 20 calories (sugar versions will be higher). I consider that a wonderful outcome!
Tips and FAQs
If you work with fruit powders, be aware that they have a very short shelf life. They seem to do fine mixed with other ingredients in the tea, but fruit powder left in the package is prone to turning into a fruit powder rock.
So I guess that means you need to drink more tea!
And for More Drinks to Warm You Up
- Black Forest Coffee from That Recipe
- Black Sesame Latte from Magical Ingredients
- Caramel Hot Chocolate from Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks
- Russian Tea (aka Friendship Tea) from Art of Natural Living
- Shaken Brown Sugar Latte from Jen Around the World
- Warm Golden Ginger Drink from Palatable Pastime
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Russian Tea with Natural Options
- ¼ cup unsweetened instant tea
- 1/3 cup tangerine powder plus 3 Tablespoons sweetener or 1/2 cup Tang
- 2 mini packets sugar free lemonade mix see note for specific options and alternatives
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon cloves
- To prepare tea mix, combine all ingredients and shake or stir to mix well. Store covered.
- To prepare one serving place 1 Tablespoon mix (see note) in a mug and top with 8-12 ounces of boiling water. Let sit for a couple minutes to steep and cool slightly, then enjoy.
Originally published Feb 4, 2021
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This tea is completely new to me. I would definitely like to try it for my afternoon tea sometime. Perfect for winter time.
I’ve been having it in the evening–it’s my reward!
My mom used to make this for us when I was a kid. I haven’t had it in forever but I’m definitely making it!
I had been ages for me too!
How interesting! I’ve never heard of this. Great that you made a “natural” version. Does Tang still exist?
Yes, it does still exist! I don’t know if you can get it in the stores, but it’s definitely available online.
This would have been great when I was a kid…we always had instant tea, Tang, and powdered lemonade around! What a nice twist on tea!
Good as an adult too!
The citrus and the spices sound inviting and I am making this tea!
They really are warming!
I love a good spiced tea and it’s awesome you make your own!
I am so happy I did since I can drink it guilt free now!
Could one substitute lime juice vs lemon juice in Russian Tea?
I don’t think that would be a problem Lois. If you try it, let me know what you think!
Not natural at all if you used Crystal Light which is sweetened with aspartame.
The recipe notes “Alternatives to Crystal Light include: enough of a sugared lemonade mix to make 1 quart; or a 2-3 Tablespoons lemon powder mixed with sweetener to taste.”
This tea sounds wonderful!! Since youth is not on my side either, I can appreciate this lighten up version 🙂
This is a perfect drink to finish of a great meal like your seafood earlier
I have never heard of Russian Tea but orange, cinnamon and cloves are flavours I love so I am sure I would enjoy this.