What is a Russian samovar?

Russian samovar

Given the Russian climate with its cold and long winters, it is not surprising that the samovar, the Great Russian “teapot”, has enjoyed such popularity. During its almost 300-year history, it has experienced ups and downs and today attracts people not only in Russia, but all over the world.

What is a samovar? 

A samovar is a device that is traditionally used to heat and boil water for tea. The word ‘самовар’ itself encapsulates the machine meaning. 

The ‘сам’ part means self; the ‘варить’ part means to cook. That is, it brews, or rather boils, itself.

Samovars are metal made, and they a large container consist in which cold water is poured, and a metal pipe running vertically through the middle. To boil the water inside the samovar, the pipe is filled with solid fuel, such as pinecones, charcoal and wood chips, which are set on fire. At the very top, a small teapot is usually placed where the brew is poured to make the tea. The teapot, positioned over water a bowl, is heated by the hot air.

Tea is served by pouring the brew into a cup and diluting it with boiling water from the samovar. To pour boiled water, one has to turn the tap at the metal container bottom. Besides, the samovar usually has handles on the sides, to make it easy to carry.

This is the construction of a classic solid fuel samovar. There are also other types of samovars. The external appearance is generally similar, but the internal structure can be different. For example, in the modern world an electric samovar is often used. The heat is provided by a heating element passing through the vessel.

A samovar’s history 

The oldest samovar, or rather samovar-like earthenware, is considered to be found in Azerbaijan. This samovar is 3700 years old. Similar devices were also found in China, but according to historians and archaeologists, these devices were not used for making tea.

In Russia, the first copper samovar was made in 1778 in Tula, the town, famous for its metalworkers and gunsmiths. Within the first 70 years, Tula numerous samovar masters produced 120 thousand units annually. Samovars were mainly nickel and copper made, and particular attention was paid to detail. The handles and tap could be made in a vine or dragon’s claws form.

The making a samovar process 12 stages consisted, in which each individual craftsmen specialised. It is interesting that the whole village population could specialise in making one element, for example the samovar handle. The samovars final assembly and finishing was made in factories. To the 20th century beginning there were about samovars 170 various models. Samovars were sold by weight, the heavier the samovar, the higher the price. After the revolution, private samovar factories were closed. For almost two years the industry did not develop. Only in 1919, the new leadership of the country formed a state union of samovar plants. Three years later the first Soviet samovar was produced, but the industry did not achieve the pre-revolutionary successes.

Fifteen years later, the Stamp factory in Tula emerged as the production division a result. In the period after the Second World War, it remains the last line to produce samovars in the country. Since 1959, electric models have appeared in its assortment, and since 1964, the souvenir series “Yasnaya Polyana” has been launched. Solid fuel samovar models began to disappear due to the new buildings equipping with cooking cookers.

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A samovar in the modern world

In recent years, interest in samovars has started to pick up again. However, today the samovar is more a tradition, the cultural heritage a part than a necessary household item. Although this does not make it any less interesting, on the contrary.

Russian samovar

For example, the “Tula samovar” history museum has been established in Tula. In a village in Ryazan region there is a permanent exposition devoted to the samovar masters Russian craft tradition.

There are monuments to the samovar. For example, in the birthplace of samovar in Tula. In the former merchant Elabuga city a magnificent four-meter bronze specimen with bagels, a bunch is erected. There are also monuments in Kungur (1200 km from Moscow), which was considered in the 19th century the Russia tea capital, in Gorodets (Nizhny Novgorod region), and in Mytishchi (Moscow region).

In addition, here is a different approach to preserving heritage and popularising traditional household items. The biggest functioning samovar in the world has water 555 litres a capacity and can simultaneously give a drink to 2220 people. Its height is 2.5 metres with a pipe attached and 1.72 metres without it. It was made in Perm in 2014 from stainless steel and is listed in the Russian Records Book.

Samovar and Russian 

The samovar significance for Russian culture is also reflected in the Russian language, for example, in numerous proverbs and sayings. Here are them some:

  • В Тулу со своим самоваром не ездят.—   They don’t bring coals to Newcastle.
  • Самовар кипитуходить не велит.— The samovar boils and tells you not to leave.
  • Баня без веникачто самовар без трубы.— A bathhouse without a sauna whisk is like a samovar without a pipe.
  • Расшумелся, как самовар: кипит, шипит, да только не уходит.— Made a noise like a samovar: boils, hisses, but just does not go away.
  • Где самовара чай, там и под елью рай. — Where there is a samovar of tea, there is paradise under the spruce tree.
  • С самоваромбуяном разговор важнее, а жизнь веселее.— The conversation with the samovar is more important, and life is more fun.

These proverbs and sayings express the attitude towards the samovar. It brought people together at a tea party. The warmth of the samovar was associated with the communication warmth. 

And some more vocabulary on the subject:

  • вскипятить воду — to boil the water;
  • чайник — kettle;
  • заварочный чайник — teapot;
  • кипяток — boiling water;
  • чаепитие — tea-time.


If you are going to buy a samovar made in Russia to bring it to your country, remember that Russian samovars are made according to Russian electrical standards, which is 220 volts and a different socket. You will need to consult with the manufacturer about the using such a samovar possibility in your country. The second option is to find a souvenir version. It can be any size, even one that will fit in your hand palm. You cannot make tea in it but it will be a nice thing to have at home.

Enjoy your tea!

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