The word samovar is derived from two Russian words, ‘samo’ – self, and ‘varit’ – to boil i.e. ‘self-boiling’.
A samovar is a metal urn, with a spigot at its base, used - especially in Russia - to boil water for tea.
Historical literature has identified samovars as being used in China, Turkey, and West Mongolia in the 17th century.
The trade treaty of New Chinsk in 1689 established a border between China and Russia allowing chests of tea to be transported to Tsar Alexis. The Russian tea service centered around the samovar, an adaptation of the Chinese and Tibetan tea kettles.
In the late 18th century, Tula, an industrial city South of Moscow, became the recognised centre for the production of samovars. By 1826, there were eight samovar factories. This increased to seventy such factories by the late 1800s.
Originally, samovars were hand-crafted in brass, cupronickel or copper and held up to fifty cups of tea. Silver was only used in special cases.
Initially, water was heated in the large samovar body by an integrated central tube in which charcoal or pine cones were burned. Later, kerosene or spirit was used as fuel to heat the central element, and latterly in the mid 1900s, electricity.
Samovars come in a variety of shapes, from plain rounded forms, to ornate, highly decorated versions.