In the Golden Ring north of Moscow, outside of Pereslavl-Zalessky where Alexander Nevsky was born, and near Lake Pleshcheyevo on which a young Peter the Great sailed his boats, is located the funky little Tea Kettle Museum. Consisting of only two small rooms, the Tea Kettle Museum houses not only utensils for making tea, but also a variety of other implements from older days when life for most Russians was passed inside of an izba. Curious visitors can pick up the various devices and ponder their uses. If after looking, turning, and offering this speculation and that, the visitor can only admit defeat , then a friendly Russian girl is there to offer a smile and an explanation.
I grew up in Texas. Tea meant Lipton tea bags and hot water. The resulting beverage was always served over ice. There were only two varieties of tea…sweet and un-sweet.
So, it was a surprise when Olga, the new and interesting young lady from a far away land, emerged from her room that first night with with a gift of unknown use. Like a visitor to the Tea Kettle museum, I had to ponder what exactly had been set before my wife and me. Fortunately, like the Tea Kettle museum, I had a friendly Russian girl to offer a smile and an explanation. The answer was that it was a samovar, the most civilized Russian method for making a cup of tea. A rich mixture of tea is brewed in a tea pot that is placed on top of the samovar to be kept warm. Water is heated inside the globe. To make a cup of tea, a measured amount of the tea mixture is poured from the tea pot into a tea cup, and then the cup is filled to the top with hot water.
But a samovar is neither the most practical nor the most economical way of making a cup of tea. Day to day, Olga brewed her tea in a tea pot and simply topped it off with water heated in a tea kettle. Despite being about as a traditional Russian as they come, Olga now brews her tea in a coffee press rather than a tea pot, and heats her water in an electric kettle rather a tea kettle. Modernity may be less quaint, but it is much more efficient.
Although all of our daughters have come from tea drinking cultures, some have preferred Starbucks coffee to tea. Besides Olga, Asya and Shadi have been our other big tea drinkers. Asya says the best tea is “camping tea” brewed on a outdoor fire on a chilly night. Shadi brewed what she call Arabic tea, finished with dried mint leaves and copious amounts of sugar. After a hard day, I could always count on one of Shadi’s teas magically appearing for me to enjoy.