TEA CULTURE

Samovar – Russian Tea Traditions

TEA CULTURE

Samovar – Russian Tea Traditions

TEA CULTURE

Samovar – Russian Tea Traditions

TEA CULTURE

Samovar – Russian Tea Traditions

Russia’s rich cultural history isn’t solely steeped in literature, classical ballet, music, and painting, yet it breathes a tea culture that is ritual-based, elegant, and traditional. Warm, comforting, and sweet, the perfect companion on cold dark nights, Russian tea has conquered the hearts of the nation and has become an integral part of daily life. The creative likes of Tolstoy, Chekov, and Dostoevsky have each illustrated different versions of Russian culture and ideology; however, the three of them do agree on the importance of tea culture in their homeland. The expression “to have a sit by a samovar” in the Russian language not only indicates the ceremonial nature of tea drinking, but that it’s a lengthy occasion encompassing deep conversations, partnerships in business deals, or passionate philosophical debates.
Russia’s rich cultural history isn’t solely steeped in literature, classical ballet, music, and painting, yet it breathes a tea culture that is ritual-based, elegant, and traditional. Warm, comforting, and sweet, the perfect companion on cold dark nights, Russian tea has conquered the hearts of the nation and has become an integral part of daily life. The creative likes of Tolstoy, Chekov, and Dostoevsky have each illustrated different versions of Russian culture and ideology; however, the three of them do agree on the importance of tea culture in their homeland. The expression “to have a sit by a samovar” in the Russian language not only indicates the ceremonial nature of tea drinking, but that it’s a lengthy occasion encompassing deep conversations, partnerships in business deals, or passionate philosophical debates.
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A Look Back In Time

Considered a privilege in the 1600s, tea became an integral part of the Russian culture. The first encounter with tea in the country came in the 1630s when a Mongolian ruler gifted some to the Russian tsar Michael I. The second time it was gifted was by a Chinese ambassador to Alexis I during trade negotiations: a moment which ushered in a surge in fandom for Russian tea. The beverage also became a significant element of cultural life by the literati of the Karamzinian circle in the 18th century. By the 19th century, it was the nation’s favorite afternoon beverage from the intelligentsia to the bourgeoisie, to the merchants. Even creatives felt the the need to display the role of tea in establishing romantic relations, one that was clearly portrayed in Alexander Pushkin’s opera, Eugene Onegin:

Of single boredom, right away
They speak–but in a cunning way.
They call him to their samovar–
None but Dunya will pour the tea;
They whisper to her: "Dunya, see!"
And then produce her sweet guitar.
O Christ! She then begins to cheep:
"Come see me in my golden keep!"

As centuries passed, tea drinking habits evolved and nowadays it is considered an all-day beverage and the national drink of Russia, a title previously solely associated with vodka. Despite the fact that their popular teas come from China or India, the typically frosty nation is home to the microclimate of Sochi: a warm tropical belt, producing both black and green tea from plantations surrounding the neighbouring hilltop village of Solokh-Aul.

A Look Back In Time

The first encounter with tea in the country came in the 1630s when a Mongolian ruler gifted some to the Russian tsar Michael I. The second time it was gifted was by a Chinese ambassador to Alexis I during trade negotiations: a moment which ushered in a surge in fandom for Russian tea. The beverage also became a significant element of cultural life by the literati of the Karamzinian circle in the 18th century. By the 19th century, it was the nation’s favorite afternoon beverage from the intelligentsia to the bourgeoisie, to the merchants. Even creatives felt the the need to display the role of tea in establishing romantic relations, one that was clearly portrayed in Alexander Pushkin’s opera, Eugene Onegin:

Of single boredom, right away
They speak–but in a cunning way.
They call him to their samovar–
None but Dunya will pour the tea;
They whisper to her: "Dunya, see!"
And then produce her sweet guitar.
O Christ! She then begins to cheep:
"Come see me in my golden keep!"

As centuries passed, tea drinking habits evolved and nowadays it is considered an all-day beverage and the national drink of Russia, a title previously solely associated with vodka. Despite the fact that their popular teas come from China or India, the typically frosty nation is home to the microclimate of Sochi: a warm tropical belt, producing both black and green tea from plantations surrounding the neighbouring hilltop village of Solokh-Aul.

How Is Russian Tea Served?

At times served with mint, lemon or sweetened with fruit jam, unlike the British, Russians prefer their tea strong and sweet. They often place a sugar cube between their teeth while they sip to maximize the sweet factor. According to the former expert historian on Russian cuisine, William Pokhlyobkin, their tea drinking ritual calls for a prolonged period of relaxation and conversations, so nibbles by the samovar are a fundamental piece of the refined set-up, including traditional Lomonosov tea sets adorned with a cobalt blue net design and 22 karat gold. The standard savory food pairings with tea-time include a variety of cheeses and cured meats while those with a sweet-tooth typically snack on sushki, a bread-like slightly sweet ring-shaped cookie.

Zavarka, a strong tea-based concentrate and the most popular preparation method, is heavily reliant on how it’s brewed and not on the type of tea. Fruit-based tisanes, herbal teas (commonly made with local berries and plants), and imported black tea, are the varieties used for zavarka depending on the household or individual.

For The Adventurous Palates: Russian Caravan Tea

Less popular than zavarka, yet still a noteworthy tea type for its rich flavor and nostalgically sweet smokiness, the origins of the distinguished Russian Caravan tea can be traced back to the 18th century. The inclusion of the word ‘caravan’ captures the camel caravans that were transporting tea along ancient tea routes from China to Europe via Russia. On these long journeys, the tea would be infused with the nearby smoke from campfires each night.

The flavor notes of a Russian Caravan Tea will vary depending on the blend; however, usually it will taste like a light Lapsang Souchong with a mild pine smoke feel, depth, and maltiness. If your variation contains oolong tea, you will feel hints of light floral notes, ripe fruit and honey on your tongue. Depending on your tastes, choose to add milk for a smoother finish yet it is also delicious without.

For The Adventurous Palates: Russian Caravan Tea

Less popular than zavarka, yet still a noteworthy tea type for its rich flavor and nostalgically sweet smokiness, the origins of the distinguished Russian Caravan tea can be traced back to the 18th century. The inclusion of the word ‘caravan’ captures the camel caravans that were transporting tea along ancient tea routes from China to Europe via Russia. On these long journeys, the tea would be infused with the nearby smoke from campfires each night.

The flavor notes of a Russian Caravan tea vary depending on the blend; however, usually it will taste like a light Lapsang Souchong with a mild pine smoke feel, depth, and maltiness. If your variation contains oolong tea, you will feel hints of light floral notes, ripe fruit and honey on your tongue.


Functional Art: The Samovar

The samovar is the centrepiece of Russian tea culture. In most families, it is considered a precious heirloom and a symbol of wealth as rich families can own samovars that showcase intricate craftsmanship and precious metals. From fruity, bitter, weak or strong, anyone can make their tailored cup of zavarka in this functional work of art. To make the zavarka, the samovar is filled with water and placed over a stove. The metal container keeps the water warm for long periods of time and the spigot is used to boil and dispense water, with an attachment that holds the tea concentrate. When being served, everyone is given a small quantity of zavarka and each person adds their desired type and amount of sweetener and boiling water from the spigot. The allure of this method is that essentially your tea will be warm for longer periods of time, turning casual meetings into deeper social connections.

Functional Art: The Samovar

The samovar is the centrepiece of Russian tea culture. In most families, it is considered a precious heirloom and a symbol of wealth as rich families can own samovars that showcase intricate craftsmanship and precious metals. From fruity, bitter, weak or strong, anyone can make their tailored cup of zavarka in this functional work of art. To make the zavarka, the samovar is filled with water and placed over a stove. The metal container keeps the water warm for long periods of time and the spigot is used to boil and dispense water, with an attachment that holds the tea concentrate. When being served, everyone is given a small quantity of zavarka and each person adds their desired type and amount of sweetener and boiling water from the spigot. The allure of this method is that essentially your tea will be warm for longer periods of time, turning casual meetings into deeper social connections.

NOTEWORTHY SAMOVAR FACTS:
  • The word “samovar” literally translates to “self-brewer”.
  • Some Russians believed that samovars had a soul and could communicate with people based on the sounds produced when heating the water.
  • At times whole villages would specialize in making one piece of the samovar, indicating its complex and expensive production process.
  • Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, samovars were heated with twigs and pine cones.
NOTEWORTHY SAMOVAR FACTS:
  • The word “samovar” literally translates to “self-brewer”.
  • Some Russians believed that samovars had a soul and could communicate with people based on the sounds produced when heating the water.
  • In the 1780s, a large samovar production factory was opened in Tula by the brothers Lisitsyn and the samovar quickly rose in popularity.
  • At times whole villages would specialize in making one piece of the samovar, indicating its complex and expensive production process.
  • Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, samovars were heated with twigs and pine cones.

The Russian samovar remains a prized possession for many Russian families and history buffs, whereas nowadays it is common to find electric samovars and kettles as replacements for the old-fashioned method of brewing tea. What prevails is the human desire for deep connection and conversation.  

The Russian tea culture perfectly encompasses the luxury of letting go of all conceptions of time, kicking back, and socializing, as you sip on a bold & sweet cup of tea.

The Russian samovar remains a prized possession for many Russian families and history buffs, whereas nowadays it is common to find electric samovars and kettles as replacements for the old-fashioned method of brewing tea. What prevails is the human desire for deep connection and conversation.  

The Russian tea culture perfectly encompasses the luxury of letting go of all conceptions of time, kicking back, and socializing, as you sip on a bold & sweet cup of tea.