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Tula - It's Time for Tea!

June 3, 2009 at 7:00 am
By Jennifer Hightower

It was finally that time. Our excursion meant we would be exploring areas outside Moscow's city limits. This presented us with an exciting opportunity to see what life was like outside the big city. We visited Tula, a town about two hours south of Moscow by bus that played a large part in supplying Russian weaponry in times of war. Tula was not as visually stunning a place as Moscow, yet there was still much to do and see. We took a tour of the town's Kremlin and its modest-sized city center. We ate at a busy corner cafe. It was the typical picture of a medium-sized city, not much different from what one would find in America.

However, Tula managed to distinguish itself. What it lacked visually, it made up for in terms of cultural significance. Tula is known as the birthplace of the modern day samovar, a Russian container for heating and holding hot water in order to make tea.

The most impressive part of our time in Tula was the visit to the Samovar Museum, which held, you guessed it, many many samovars. We saw samovars in all shapes and sizes, from the late 17th Century all the way through the Soviet era. They started out in forms faintly resembling that of the modern samovar and were made of clay. As time progressed metal was introduced alongside new shapes and alternative styles. Fedor Lisitsyn is credited with the development of the modern day samovar in the 18th Century in Tula.

We saw the largest samovar housed in the museum, spanning around 4 feet tall and 2.5 feet wide. To the right is a picture of a miniature (novelty) samovar that I received as a gift. We even encountered beautiful samovar models made from... sugar? Yes, frosting and sugar had been shaped and painted to resemble a samovar. The transition from the old style samovar to the modern ones was slight but noticeable. Originally samovars were heated by burning charcoal or coal. As time progressed, electric samovars were developed, though I think everyone agreed that these took away some of the charm from the original.

While we were at the museum, a group of school children were also touring around. They looked in awe at all of the strange shapes, sizes, and even colors. It was inspiring to see that the samovar, although no longer commonly used in modern times to make tea, is still being remembered and valued for its symbolic cultural value for Russians. Samovars still represent the important tradition of tea-time in Russia. They were a simple household item, but they came to signify a sense of community and togetherness that was readily established after many sessions of tea drinking. The kinship created around a simple cup of tea continues today.