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Tea in Russia was introduced in 1638, when a Mongolian ruler donated to Tsar Michael I four poods (65–70kg) of tea. Since then, tea has had a rich history in Russia. Due in part to Russia’s cold northern climate, it is today considered the de facto national beverage that is closely associated with traditional Russian culture.

The ubiquitous Russian tea brewing device known as a samovar has become a symbol of hospitality and comfort. A traditional samovar consists of a large metal container with a faucet near the bottom and a metal pipe running vertically through the middle. The pipe is filled with solid fuel (charcoal) which is ignited to heat the water in the surrounding container. A small (6 to 8 inches) smoke-stack is put on the top to ensure draft. After the water boils and the fire is extinguished, the smoke-stack can be removed and a teapot placed on top to be heated by the rising hot air. The teapot is used to brew a strong concentrate of tea known as “zavarka”. The tea is served by diluting this concentrate with boiling water from the main container, usually at a water:tea ratio of 10:1, although tastes vary.

Samovars (from a 1989 series of USSR postage stamps)

Art of drinking tea in Russia

Baroque samovar, 18th century

Art of drinking tea in Russia

Barrel type samovar, early 1800s

Art of drinking tea in Russia

"Squash" type samovar, c. 1830

Art of drinking tea in Russia

Samovar in the form of a classical vase, c. 1840

Gallery images:

  • “At the Old Suzdal” by Boris Kustodiev
  • “Family portrait in Russia with the samovar ready for tea” by T. Myagkov, 1844
  • “At the Tea Table” by Konstantin Korovin, 1888
  • “Evening Tea in the Cottage” by Vladimir Pervunensky
  • “Night at the Homestead” by Vladimir Pervuninsky
  • Artist: Polina Luchanova
  • Artist:  Tatyana Utkina
  • Artist:  Vyacheslav Rassokhin
  • “At the Tea Table” by Konstantin Korovin, 1888
  • “Tea-Drinking” by Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky
  • “On the Terrace” by Boris Kustodiev, 1907
  • “The Merchant’s Wife at Tea” by Boris Kustodiev, 1918
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