Some inspiring-sounding words set off our imaginations in just a few syllables. Samovar, matryoshka, and ushanka are just three that entice us into adventure. Today we are going to focus on yet another – the legendary troika…
What is a troika?
The term “troika” comes from the Russian word Три (“tri”), meaning “three.” Generally speaking, it refers to a group comprised of three elements. Examples include a Russian folklore dance traditionally performed by a trio of two women and a man, or in the political sphere, three people, three parties, or three institutions.
At Kusmi Tea, Troika is the name of a classic Russian blend combining three noble citrus fruits – bergamot, orange, and mandarin. Available as a mix of black teas from China, India, and Sri Lanka (Ceylon), it can also be enjoyed as an unfermented version – Green Troika. Through its name, this blend pays homage to the iconic teams of horses used in Imperial Russia. Merely mentioning them conjures up countless fantastical images in our minds. But what were they actually like?
Horses in a league of their own
Our collective imagination pictures troikas galloping through the snowflakes along snowbound paths. If you really focus, you might even hear the magical sound of their bells clinking together. But let’s look even closer! Remember, troikas are the only teams in which the horses – placed side by side – move forward using different strides. The central horse is a sturdy stallion, and trots in long strides to set the pace for his companions. Meanwhile, the two remaining horses gallop with their heads turned slightly outward to avoid obstructing their leader. The three steeds move forward in a fan formation, and can reach speeds of up to 32mph.
These physical feats were indispensable for covering vast distances across Russia. A troika could travel from Moscow to Kusmi’s birthplace, Saint Petersburg, in just a week. The total distance covered was 466 miles! When they were first invented in the 18th century, troikas were used by the postal service and helped connect the country’s furthest-flung regions (even if it meant swapping the carriage wheels for sled runners). These conditions meant troikas had to be robust, agile, fast, and capable of resisting a whole host of dangers and bad weather. It quickly became the favorite mode of transport of rural populations, before being widely adopted by the aristocracy. The noble classes used horses they considered more elegant, and brought the troika from the countryside to the city.
A highly qualified profession
Troika drivers had to begin their training at a very young age. This is why coachmen would often teach their sons. The people of this profession were the most stylish of all the moujiks, proudly sporting their belted caftans and working in total synergy with their horses. And, believe it or not, they held four reins instead of six. Two were used for the central stallion, and one each for the horses on either side. An impressive skillset, to say the least!
Today the troikas have been replaced by cars, trains, and planes. But if you are tempted by a walk down memory lane, then you can watch the troika races at the hippodromes in Vincennes (France) or in Moscow! And after the thundering hoofs have crossed the finish line, you can treat yourself to a deliciously nostalgic mug of… Troika!