Some inspiring-sounding words set off our imaginations in just a few syllables. Matryoshka, troika, and ushanka are just three that entice us into adventure. Today we are going to focus on yet another – the iconic samovar.
A samovar is not a tea pot, but in fact a kettle. And as you will see, this seemingly simple object has a long, fascinating history behind it…
Intimately linked to tea
You can’t talk about a samovar without talking about tea. And not only the tea leaves themselves, but everything that goes along with them, from the ambience and the setting to the taste and the warmth. Let us begin with a quick recap of the astonishing way in which the samovar works. A central module is supported by four, often finely-wrought feet, and has a little tap on the side. Hot charcoals are placed in a compartment below and gently heat the water in the samovar. A tea pot filled with a very strong infused tea liquor is also kept warm at the top. When serving tea, a small amount of the liquor is poured into each cup, and topped up with the water heated to the perfect temperature.
The samovar is the iconic centerpiece of all Russian homes, and occupies such a special place that anyone would believe it was a member of the family. As it happens, when the water begins to warm up the Russians traditionally say the samovar is singing! Time seems to stand still as friends and family gather around it to enjoy a cup of tea and a delicious, sweet treat, while the sounds of animated conversation floats through the air. Comfort, friendship, and fond memories set the tone for these simple moments of daily joy.
A piece of art
While most samovars are now electric, that doesn’t stop Russian families preserving the old ones passed lovingly down through the generations. After all, each one tells the story of those who have owned it. Families now use samovars as decorative objects, and often place them in pride of place in the middle of the table at family gatherings. Some are nothing short of pieces of art, boasting beautifully-crafted handles, sophisticated engravings, coats of arms, and hand-painted ornamentation. These traditional models are usually cast in copper, but can also be found in enamel, bronze, brass, silver, and even gold!
A long history
The story of where the samovar originated from has several different versions, and some say the first example dates back to ancient times. However, many believe the “modern” Russian samovar was created in the Ural region in the 18th century. The first factory was then opened in Tula, a town located south of Moscow already renowned for its skilled metalworkers. The little community is proud of its heritage, and still uses the samovar as its town symbol today.
Forget your electric kettle, the samovar is an invitation to concoct the perfect cup of tea according to the finest Russian traditions…