Black tea appeared in Russia in the early 17th century, when the Russian Tsar Michael Romanov got several boxes of tea as a gift from the Chinese ambassadors. Despite its high price, black tea became the most popular beverage, and the Russians developed their own tea-drinking traditions. In the Museum of Samovars in the small town Gorodets, located on Volga River near Nizhny Novgorod, you can see a rich collection of samovars and learn a lot about Russian tea drinking.
The collection in the Gorodets museum includes more than 500 samovars of different size and forms. The biggest exhibited samovar, with three taps, contains 53 liters of water. It was used in the taverns. The smallest 75-grams samovar is called “egoist”. Different forms of samovars have their specific names, for example ‘a ball’, ‘a Greek vase’, ‘an egg’, ‘a shot glass’ or ‘a turnip’. A samovar for two persons with two taps was called “Tete-a-tete”. Travelling samovar had a form of a cube to fit a special box attached to a carriage.
“Samovar” means “self-boiling”. In the museum, you can see its structure and know how to use it. A samovar has a pipe in the centre, where the pieces of coal, chips of wood or pine cones are burnt to heat the water. In the process of water boiling, the samovar creates different sounds like “singing”, “murmur” and “rumble like a storm”. When the water starts boiling, a teapot with concentrated black tea is put on the top of the samovar to brew tea. In a samovar, the tea gets its unique taste and fragrance. The oldest samovars were divided into three parts for simultaneous cooking of soup, porridge and tea, like a modern multi-cooker.
Unlike the silent Japanese tea ceremony, the Russian one was a time of the warm-hearted talk. Keeping silent could have been taken as an insult. Tea drinking created an atmosphere of friendliness and unity. There was a saying, “Take tea and you’ll forget your grief”. Everyone took at least 6–8 cups of tea. The mistress immediately filled the empty cups. If a guest didn’t want to take another cup of tea, he would turn his cup upside-down. Tea drinking was one of the favorite themes in the traditional Gorodets paintings.
The Russians never drank “empty” tea, without the desserts. They usually took tea with bagels, round cracknel, pryaniks, honey or jam. The Museum of Pryanik in Gorodets opens the secrets of this traditional Russian dessert made from flour, honey and spices like mint, glove and star anise. Pryaniks were “printed” with the help of the carved boards. In the museum, you can see pryaniks and carved boards of different forms and design.
A small town of Gorodets attracts travelers by its houses decorated with traditional wood carving, its rich 870-year-old history, picturesque view of Volga River and small museums, that preserve the old traditions of Gorodets crafts. Here, you can see the biggest collection of samovars, a symbol of the Russian tea-drinking traditions. Why did every family wish to buy a samovar, although it was more expensive than a cow? Why did people put garlands of bagels on a samovar? You can find all the answers in Gorodets.
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