Any Russian's best friend. No, not a person, but in the past that's how the Russians treated their samovar. It had a place of honor at the table, and in some homes it still does.
SOUNDBITE Konstantin Ziskin, samovar enthusiast, speaking Russian: "Tea from a samovar tastes much better than tea from an electric kettle. It smells of smoke, fresh wood and pine cones."
Literally a self-boiler, a samovar has traditionally been used to heat water for tea. And that's how it's done the old way: water from the well, wood chips and a lot of huffing and puffing make up the recipe for a perfect tea time.
SOUNDBITE Konstantin Ziskin, samovar enthusiast, speaking Russian: "God, you are so heavy."
A teapot filled with brew, or zavarka in Russian, goes on top to stay warm. You then dilute the brew with hot water for just your cup of tea.
SOUNDBITE Konstantin Ziskin, samovar enthusiast, speaking Russian: "This all disposes to drinking a tea like the merchants did. This saucer is not right, but there is a special one for tea drinking. And the merchants usually drank tea, holding the saucer on three fingers."
And the Russians loved their samovars. More than just a water-boiling device, it was a symbol of home, bringing friends and family together. A small samovar meant for just one person was even dubbed "selfish". Tea time was very much a social thing.
If relatives or friends weren't speaking to each other for some reason, they'd meet for tea to make up and used their samovar as a mediator. They'd actually talk to it, asking to pass on their message. Dear samovar, please, tell my cameraman to stop sulking because we are almost done and we will be going home soon. -- Ha, dear samovar, please tell Svetlana that I'm very happy about it.
The first Russian samovar was made in the 18th century and soon people throughout the country couldn't imagine living without it. Samovar competitions became all the rage -- the biggest ones usually won.
Many samovars perished during World War II, melted into bullets by order of Stalin. But a lot of them survived. And if they're lucky they can even get a new life. In his workshop, Valery Shakhray, a samovar restorer, collects old samovars and restores them to their former glory. A completely restored samovar will set you back some $2,000. But for him, it's more than just business:
SOUNDBITE Valery Shakhray, samovar restorer, speaking Russian: "If you take a good look at it, you'll notice: each samovar has a story to tell -- a story not just about someone who used it a hundred years ago, but a story of someone who made it. Just like people, they're all different."
And whether they're used purely for decoration or actual tea-making, samovars have firmly become part of Russian exotica.
Barack Obama was treated to a cup of tea from a samovar, kindled in a traditional way -- with a jackboot.
And it's no surprise that samovars are a permanent fixture in souvenir shops.
SOUNDBITE shop assistant, souvenir shop, speaking English: "It will be in different shape, like this or bigger shape, or smaller shape, it will be painted in different style, like we have different traditional colors."
A Russian writer once said that while in Europe it's hard to imagine a home without a fireplace, in Russia it's hard to imaging a home without a samovar. Not every Russian home now has one. But you can hardly find a taste more Russian than a cup of tea brewed in a samovar.
Copyright 2011 RT TV
RT, previously known as Russia Today, is a government-funded global multilingual television news network based in the Russian Federation. It was founded in 2005 as Russia Today by the government-owned RIA Novosti.