The basics of a samovar are simple, so you will be asking yourself why you would need one. And indeed you do not need one. You can enjoy a samovar-style tea time without having a samovar.
A samovar, developed in the 17th century, is actually two items: a large urn that holds hot water and a smaller teapot filled with a strong tea brew that sits on top of it through the day. Some even have two teapots (one for tea type A, the other for tea type B). Modern samovars have electric water heating compartments. The stronger the tea in the teapot, the more hospitable the host is perceived to be. The family and any guests gather around the samovar, pour tea from the teapot into their glasses set in holders (podstakanniks), add hot water from the bottom portion of the samovar, and then sweeten it. Or sometimes they hold a sugar cube between their teeth and sip the strong tea through it.
So, how do you have that same type of tea experience without a samovar? First, you need a way to have hot water readily at hand. There are some options here: an electric kettle, a microwave, or (my hubby had one of these when we met) an automatic coffeemaker that was used strictly for keeping water hot. Next, you need a small teapot (2 to 4 cups capacity) for your strong tea. The trick is keeping that tea reasonably warm, but not necessarily hot. A cozy is one option. A single-burner hotplate set on “Warm” is another. You can, of course, simply let the tea go cool in the teapot and heat it with hot water. I give no guarantees that this will result in any tea that you would actually want to drink.
This brings us to the key item: the tea. Give careful consideration to the need for the tea to stand up to a heavy steeping, to sitting for awhile being kept warm, to then being diluted. Not just any tea will do here. In Russia, black tea is commonly used, with green tea gaining popularity, thinking it is more healthy, more “Oriental.” They also love to mix black teas and herbal tisanes.
Keemun is a good choice here, as are Russian Caravan, Lapsang Souchong, and other strong Chinese black teas. On the green side, gunpowder is a good option, one that I know personally can take the treatment it will receive here without turning into something akin to witches’ brew.
There you go — a way to have that samovar-style tea without the samovar. Enjoy!
See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.
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