Eduard Khil, better known to San Jose theater and music nerds as “Mr. Trololo”, passed away yesterday in a St. Petersburg hospital after suffering a stroke. Khil was a popular vocalist during the Soviet era, who only became famous internationally in 2010 when old footage of a performance from 1976 was released on YouTube. Khil was performing on a Russian television variety show and planned to sing a song called “I Am Glad, ‘Cause I’m Finally Returning Back Home” written by Soviet composer Arkady Ostrovsky, but the words to the song presented a positive, nostalgic view of an American cowboy that, according to some, didn’t sit well with Soviet censors. Khil was asked to change the words to the song or perform a different one, so he substituted “trololo” for the original words.
In a later interview, Khil denied that the song was censored, and claimed that the original lyrics were still unfinished and unpublished when he first performed the song, so he substituted “trololo” and other non-verbal sounds for the words. Khil enjoyed a modest musical career, as a music teacher and cabaret singer, until his concert career was revived in 2010 because of his old TV footage, although he said that he “never earned a kopeck” from the T-shirts and other memorabilia that bears his image. Khil will be buried in St. Petersburg, and he leaves behind his wife, former ballerina Zoya Pravdina, one son and one grandson.
It is said that tea was the “sole embellishment in the life of office workers” during the Soviet era, and since that was the main section of Mr. Trololo’s career, it’s especially apropriate to remember him and his cheery – if a little creepy – performing style with some Russian-style tea. Not the stuff with Tang in it, real tea! Tea entered Russia in 1638, as a gift to the Tsar from the Mongolian ruler of China. Within 50 years, regular loads of tea were making their way by camel caravan into Russia, originally an expensive luxury for the royal court, but demand and shipments increased, and the price lowered until tea became a staple in the Russian kitchen, and the samovar is a national symbol of hospitality. Russians traditionally drink strong, hearty Chinese black tea, but they prepare and serve it differently from the Chinese and from the Western world.
Unlike Chinese-style, or Western-style tea, Russian tea is prepared in a teapot as a very strong tea concentrate, which is diluted to each person’s taste when served. Two or more tablespoons of tea leaves are placed in an empty teapot and heated by steam from a samovar, which is an old-style water heater and urn; then boiling water is added from the samovar’s spout, and the covered teapot placed on top of the samovar to infuse where it will keep warm. A few spoonfuls of concentrated tea is poured into each cup, which is then filled up with hot water from the samovar, and served with honey, cherry jam, or sugar cubes. The honey or jam is put into the cup, and the tea poured over it and not stirred in; old-timers in the Russian community bite a sugar cube between their front teeth, and drink the tea through the sugar with each sip.
The only Russian-style tea available in San Jose-area stores is Kusmi Tea. Otherwise, use Russian Caravan tea, which is a black tea blend that is slightly smoky, and is available from certain local specialty tea shops like Satori Tea Bar in San Pedro Square and Lupicia at Valley Fair mall. If you can’t find that, use plain black tea mixed with a little bit of Lapsang Souchong, which is Chinese black tea that has been dried over a fire of pine needles so that it has a strong smoky aroma and flavor. Satori Tea Bar, Lupicia, and Peet’s Coffee & Tea sell loose-leaf Lapsang Souchong, but sometimes you can find Twinings’ brand Lapsang Souchong in teabags, in stores like Cost Plus World Market and Big Lots. Green tea and black teas from India and Sri Lanka, including Darjeeling, are also becoming more popular in modern Russia. Served with some blini, vatrushka buns, or bubliki (bagels), sweetened with honey or a dab of jam in the bottom of the cup, or with a sugar cube to bite as you sip the tea, you’ll have a very traditional Russian tea experience, right here in San Jose!
Copyright 2012, Elizabeth Urbach.
For more information:
“Eduard Khil” Wikipedia page
“Soviet crooner ‘Mr. Trololo’ dies in Russia” from the Associated Press.
“Mr. Trololo: Singer Eduard Khil dies aged 77” video from YouTube
“Have a 1940s style tea party”
“Tea tasting 101: characteristics of a good-quality black tea”
“Chinese black tea in San Jose”
“Where to buy Chinese tea in the San Jose area”
“What you need to make a good pot of hot tea”
“Tea 101: How to brew a pot of hot tea using loose tea”
“An overview of Chinese teas available in San Jose”
“Different types of Chinese black tea available in San Jose”
“Tea bricks: what are they and should they be used?”
“What are the different kinds of green tea available in San Jose?”
“Tang and Tea” by Lisa Morrison
“Russian tea culture”
Afternoon tea menu at Katia’s Russian Tea Room in San Francisco
Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco
Blini (Russian Pancakes) recipe
Raspberry Vatrushka Buns recipe