What is a Samovar?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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A samovar is a type of tea service which is very popular in Russia, although the design can also be found in Iran and parts of the Middle East. In essence, a samovar is a large vat designed to hold water which is heated via a pipe that runs through the middle of the vat. On the top of the samovar, there is room to place a teapot, which holds concentrated tea that can be quickly diluted with water from the samovar for drinking. A samovar can also be used for coffee service.

The basic design of the samovar has been in use for hundreds of years, and is still employed in traditional Russian tea shops and some homes. Ornate Victorian Russian samovars can be seen on display at numerous museums, demonstrating a high level of dedication to the craft and love for the samovar. Samovars can still be found in parts of Russia and Iran today, although they are somewhat more rare.


In ornate form, samovars were used for entertaining important guests, and might be silver plated with a genuine porcelain teapot on top. In more basic models, a samovar might be made of a metal such as copper, and was used to keep water hot and tea ready in impoverished houses. Many Russians kept a fire gently smoldering under the samovar to keep the water warm, and would increase the heat to boil the water when guests arrived. In more modern times, electric samovars have become much more common. In all cases, the samovar is an indicator of hospitality and companionship.

Traditionally, tea served from a samovar is made with a concentrated tea mixture, kept warm in the teapot at the top of the samovar. The concentrated tea is made by brewing a large amount of looseleaf tea in the teapot and steeping it for up to ten minutes. Then the tea leaves are discarded and the concentrate is kept warm by being placed on top of the samovar to collect heat dissipating from below. When a guest wants tea, the tea concentrate is poured into a cup and hot water from the samovar is added to it: usually the concentrate accounts for one tenth of the volume of the cup.

While sitting around the samovar drinking tea which may be flavored with honey, sugar, milk, or lemon, guests also eat a variety of small snack foods and tea cakes. In a poor household, these snacks might be simple foods such as rye bread, basic cheeses, and pickles. In wealthy homes, the snack could take on the appearance of a large spread of food including a variety of pastries, small sandwiches, and breads.


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How is the water placed inside of the samovar?

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