Just Slavic Things: Having a Sit by the Samovar

Enjoy this excerpt from our upcoming cookbook, More Than Borsch.

The word samovar means “self-boiler” and is an integral part of tea making and drinking. A samovar-like implement with a central tube covered in soot was discovered in Azerbaijan dating back to the 2nd century BC, but samovars weren’t widely manufactured until the 18th century, originally by the Lisitsyn brothers, Ivan and Nazar, two metalworkers working in their father’s brass factory in Tula. Though samovars were later produced in many cities, Tula became (and remains) the samovar-producing capital of Russia. It has even spurred a saying: you don’t bring your own samovar to Tula.

The samovar contains a central tube filled with smoldering charcoal, wood or even pine cones, which boil the water and keep it hot, and can be quickly rekindled using a bellow, or sticking a boot on top. A good samovar should whistle when the water boils. In fact, Russian people believed that the samovar had a soul because of its beautiful whistling. On top is a small teapot filled with a highly concentrated brew, which is then poured into cups and diluted to the desired strength.

The samovar is particularly well suited for the protracted ritual of tea drinking and leisurely discussion in a communal setting, summed up neatly in the Russian phrase “to have a sit by the samovar.” Interestingly enough, the samovar appeared in Russia before tea did and was used to make the hot honey-and-spice drink, sbiten. Still, when the samovar truly came into its own and became a symbol of Russia, it was tied strongly to tea. It became ubiquitous; if a family didn’t own a samovar, they were considered truly poor.

Wear the great symbol of Slavic recreation in all its shiny glory: get a samovar t-shirt today.