by jptanabe

Samovars are iconic Russian teamakers! The word means "self-boiler" in Russian.

Samovars are heated metal containers used to boil water for tea, particularly in Russia; the word samovar meaning "self-boiler" in Russian. Samovars are so famous, they really symbolize Russian culture having been a familiar sight in every home, restaurant, and even on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Today, however, they are more commonly found in museums and antique stores. Samovars have various designs, from the simple and practical, the classic metalwork from Tula to incredibly ornate enamel and silver styles.

Image of Russian Samovars from Wikimedia Commons.

Making Tea with Russian Samovar

Jews Making Tea with Russian Type Samovar

Samovars represent traditional Russian culture, not the Communist regime that dominated so much of the twentieth century but the true Russian life. This is the culture that still lives and breathes in Russia and around the world where Russian emigrants and their descendants make their homes.

Russian literature is replete with samovars, authors like Chekhov, Pushkin and Gogol often invoke the samovar to symbolize Russian hospitality. For Russians, to sit down by the samovar is like the British sharing a "cuppa" - it evokes a sense of familiarity, cosiness and comfort, a refuge from oftentimes harsh realities of work and life in general, a time to come together with family and friends and share what we have in common.

History of Samovars

In the old days, samovars used charcoal for boiling the water; more recent models are electric.The original samovars were basically a teakettle with a heater pipe inside and legs.

In the nineteenth century, Tula became the center of samovar manufacturing, with gunsmiths using their metalworking skills to create charcoal-burning samovars. Four styles became traditional: the barrel shape, cylindrical, spherical, and the beautiful "samovar vaznoy" that resembles the ancient Greek "krater" vase.

The samovar quickly became indispensable in Russian life, with families from the richest to the poorest owning them, as well as places of work. Even railroad cars installed samovars to provide hot water and tea to passengers traveling long distances.

Electric Samovars

By the mid-twentieth century, the smoky charcoal burning samovar was largely replaced, at least in households and commercial establishments, by the electric samovar.

Not only was this cleaner, but the electric samovar was more convenient in terms of maintenance, quicker in boiling the water, and included thermostats to maintain the correct temperature.

Using a Samovar

Samovars are somewhat complex in design, compared to the simple tea kettle. The large four-legged urn contains a special heating pipe which causes the water inside to heat to boiling. Samovars are an economical way to provide a continuous source of hot water and tea for the whole family.

In the old style charcoal burners, the samovar is cleaned before use, and water added through the open hatch. The fuel, usually charcoal but also traditionally pinecones, is placed in the combustion chamber and ignited. To get the fire going it needs pumping with special bellows. Electric samovars are much easier to use, since all they need is to be filled with water and switched on.


The samovar only heats the water. The tea is made in a small teapot that sits on top of the chimney.

This tea is very strong, and so hot water is added to dilute it according to taste when tea is served.

Samovars in art

In many Russian scenes the traditional samovar is naturally included.

Samovars are not only functional but also beautiful, and as such have featured in many artworks. In the above picture the samovar adds just the right touch to balance the composition.

Merchant's Wife at Tea by Boris Kustodiev
Merchant's Wife at Tea by Boris Kustodiev

Buy a Samovar

Electric samovars and miniature samovars

Electric samovars are readily available for purchase.

This one has a really attractive teapot on top, and the samovar water heater is really quite cute too!

Learn more about Samovars

Antiques dealer, Mehmet Nabi Israfil, the author of "Samovars: The Art of the Russian Metalworkers", has spent 28 years selling, collecting and gathering information on Russian samovars and metalworkers. The idea was to provide collectors and novices alike a background history and a full description of typical Russian Samovars. This book gives the reader an easy way to identify samovars.

Samovars on other sites

Updated: 03/23/2016, jptanabe
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Ever had tea from a samovar?

MBC on 11/12/2015

Not yet, but this is very interesting. I do love tea.

jptanabe on 11/08/2015

Yes, an old samovar would be a great collectors item - especially one that still works!

blackspanielgallery on 11/07/2015

I suppose the older ones are quite collectible.

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