Like many places in the world Russia was first introduced to tea in the 16th century, after Cossack Atamans ventured into China. In the centuries that followed trade deals were established that imported tea in ever increasing quantities, thus making it more affordable for all, resulting in mass adoption throughout the country. The cold climate, might have had something to do with the persisting popularity of tea in Russia. However, what makes Russian tea culture truly unique is the use of a specific brewing device: a Samova (or “self-cooker”), that rose to prominence in the 18th century.
A samovar is a metal container, often shaped like an urn or barrel and beautifully adorned, that has a metal cylinder running through the middle that is heated to keep the water around it warm. This pipe can be filled with various forms of fuel like wood, coal or charcoal (or these days more commonly an electric heating element). Near the bottom of the samovar is a small tap and on the top a small chimney can be placed to redirect the smoke coming from the cylinder.
Once the water is heated a pot of separately brewed highly concentrated tea (black remains most common but green tea is rising in popularity) called Zavarka is placed on top of the samovar to keep warm. The tea is then consumed by pouring some of the Zavarka in your cup and diluting it with the hot water from the samovar depending on your personal preference. Other flavor additives, like jam, lemon, or sugar, are then added at will.
More than just a tool for brewing tea, the samovar has come to symbolize Russian hospitality in general, as the phrase “having a sit by samovar” is to this day still commonly used to describe or initiate social gatherings. Moreover, a light meal or snacks are almost always served when offering someone Zavarka as it is an important part of one’s hospitality and it is even considered rude not to. While the samovar is a typically Russian device, it’s popularity has spread to neighboring countries like Iran, India, Turkey, Croatia and Serbia.