Given the high number of Russian immigrants in our area of the Pacific Northwest, we recently decided to try out their time-honored way of drinking tea. We took a trip to a nearby store that sells groceries and kitchen supplies for the Russian community, and purchased ourselves an electric samovar. The ladies working in the store seemed excited that we were interested in their style of doing things, and gave us enthusiastic instructions in the art of Russian tea-drinking. Fifteen or twenty minutes of cordial conversation, and we were ready to take our new gadget home and put it through its paces.
Basically, a samovar consists of a large hot water canister and a teapot that perches on top of it. Russians will typically leave it simmering for hours on end – on a low heat setting – so that the water is always kept warm, and thus so are the contents of the teapot above it. Another great thing about a samovar is that each drinker can decide exactly how strong they want their tea. While the brew inside the teapot might be quite strong, it can always be diluted by adding hot water from the canister. The name “samovar” literally means “self-cooking,” since the water-heating and the drink preparation are all there in one appliance.
Following the instructions we had been given, we started out by filling the canister with water, plugging it into the electric socket, and putting its thermostat on high to boil the water. Meanwhile, we spooned some tea leaves into the infuser that fits inside the teapot. We mixed up the cultures a little by using Twinings Earl Grey.
Once the water boiled, we opened the tap on the side of the canister and poured some into the teapot. Turning the thermostat down a little to keep the water warm, we placed the teapot in the dip on the top of the canister and let the tea draw. Then we poured it out and enjoyed our first cups of samovar-made tea. We drank it from cups, although one of the ladies in the store told us that Russians often pour it into the saucer and sip it from there.
The verdict? It’s a great way to make a strong brew that will stay hot for hours, growing ever richer as it goes. The samovar is also an attractive and elegant sight. Silently cooking away in the corner of the living room, it seems a nice homey touch. But we have also been thinking how great a samovar would look in the workplace. It would make an interesting feature – like a water cooler, except with more antioxidants.
This article, written by Elizabeth and David Hill, was originally posted to T Ching on December 24th, 2009.