The Samovar

By William I. Lengeman III

If you’re in the market for a gadget to help you prepare tea there’s no shortage of choices these days. The most basic form of tea preparation consists simply of hot water, tea bags and a cup or mug. At the other end of the scale are assorted and sundry gadgets that use various levels of technology to create a topnotch cup of tea.

Woman with Samovar

One of the most interesting of these tea-making gadgets and a comparatively low-tech option is the samovar. This tea maker is most often associated with Russia, but it has been and still is used in various other countries. Samovars vary widely from one model to the next, but the most basic models usually consist of a metal container used to heat and dispense water. The samovar may also hold concentrated tea. This is then diluted with hot water prior to being served.

Samovars come in assorted shapes and sizes, ranging from ornate to utilitarian. Some of them are rather modest devices, which are intended for use by one or two people. Others are much more substantial models suitable for serving a sizable crowd. Though they were once fueled by coal or charcoal, samovars are likely to be powered by electricity nowadays.

It’s hard to be sure exactly where and when the samovar originated, but it probably first came into use in Russia some time in the eighteenth century. From that time onward the device increased in popularity – along with tea – and became such an ingrained part of Russian life that it is mentioned by many of the great Russian novelists.

For more information about the samovar and Russian tea culture in general, refer to this article by tea historian James Norwood Pratt, in which he suggests that the gadget was derived from a device once used in Mongolia. For some additional perspective on samovars and Russian tea culture, look here. For a look at some antique Russian samovars, look here.

Check out William’s blog, Tea Guy Speaks, for more interesting writing!

6 thoughts on “The Samovar

  1. Pingback: Some History of Russian Tea | Tea Blog

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  4. Nikolai

    Hello. Nice article, but part of your information is incorrect. The samovar does NOT ever hold tea. Hot water only! In the photo, the samovar is shown with a “chimney extension” that lengthens the chimney. This helps make the traditional coals that go into the center “tube” burn hotter. When they are hot, the chimney extension is removed, and a tea pot filled with a lot of tea is placed on top of the shorter “chimney” that the extension was attached to previously. The tea pot holds concentrated tea. This is poured into cups and water from the samovar is added to taste.

  5. Thanks for this post!

    We had a samovar when I was a kid, and we’d use it to dispense hot apple cider at holiday parties…for some reason I never thought of using it for tea but it makes sense. =)

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