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Chai po-russki

Samovar Gathering around a hot samovar to have tea with various sweet and savoury dishes or zakuski is an old Russian tradition. But you do not have to own a samovar in order to brew a pot of good strong tea, served with some of the ingredients and dishes listed below.

Read more about the samovar and setting a Russian tea table here.

Choose some of the dishes and snacks listed below to be served with the tea. Ideally there should be some filling dishes (pies or pasties), light dishes (open-faced sandwiches, cold cuts, cheeses, vegetables), sweet dishes (pastries, cookies, confectionery, jams) and fresh dishes (fruit and berries).

An abundant tea table may replace the meal, but instead of setting a lavish buffet you may simply just serve some bread and butter, cold cuts of meat, fish and eggs, cheeses and vegetables (sliced tomato, cucumber or radish) for assembling open-faced sandwiches.

Russian teacup Dessert may include pastry or fruit, or just honey and various jams that can be spread on a slice of freshly baked French bread or eaten with a spoon between sips of tea.

Arrange the ingredients to be served on serving plates. Slice the bread(s) and place in baskets. Provide tiny plates or bowls with teaspoons for eating jam or honey.

Tea is drunk black, but it can be sweetened with sugar or honey and flavoured with a slice of lemon, jam or a dash of rum, cognac, Swedish punsch or some liqueur.


Brewing tea using a regular teapot:

    Uzbek teacup
  1. Warm a ceramic teapot by filling it with boiling water.
  2. Meanwhile, bring the water for the tea to the boil in a kettle.
  3. Pour out the water from the teapot and measure the tea leaves of your choice in the pot. Use about one teaspoon of tea for every 150 - 200 millilitres of water. Adjust the quantity of tea leaves in proportion to water according to your taste and the tea variety used.
  4. Fill the pot with boiling water, the quantity of which corresponds to the number of cups needed.
  5. Cover the pot with a lid (and a tea cosy) to keep it warm and let it sit for two to eight minutes, depending on the tea variety.
  6. Pour the tea in teacups or glasses through a tea sieve and serve.

Note: I am happy to own a set of the same type of blue, white and gold patterned, Soviet-era Uzbek teacups (pictured above) as those from which the girl Masha and Panda are eating jam in an episode of the charmingly whimsical, intelligently and meticulously crafted children's animated cartoon series "Masha and the Bear/Маша и Медведь" :-) (in the picture below).

Masha and Panda eating jam

Brewing tea using a samovar:

Miniature samovar and tea caddy The tea water is heated in the samovar and a strong tea concentrate is brewed in a separate, small teapot. The concentrate is then diluted to taste with the hot water from the samovar.
Read more about using a samovar here.

  1. While the samovar is heating the water for the tea, warm the teapot by filling it with boiling water, heated in another kettle.
  2. Pour out the water and measure the tea leaves of your choice  —  usually some black tea is used  —  in the pot. Use about three teaspoons of tea for every 150 - 200 millilitres of water. Adjust the quantity of tea leaves in proportion to water according to your taste and the tea variety used.
  3. Pour the measured amount of boiling water (from the kettle) in the pot.
  4. Cover the pot with lid (and a tea cosy) to keep it warm and let it sit for three to ten minutes, depending on the tea variety.
  5. Pour some tea concentrate in a teacup or glass (about 50 - 70 millilitres) through a tea sieve, top with boiling water from the samovar to taste and serve.


Savoury things served with tea:

Bread and rolls:


Pies, pasties and sandwiches:

Fish, meat and cheeses:

  • salted or pickled herring or sprat in various sauces
  • caviar or salmon roe (black or red ikra)
  • freshly salted fish: whitefish or gravlax
  • cold or hot-smoked fish
  • various cold cuts and sausages: roast beef, veal, ham, chicken or turkey, game, tongue, liver pâté, etc
  • hard-boiled hens' or quails' eggs
  • various cheeses from cream cheese to Emmental to blue cheese

Fresh and pickled vegetables:

Sweet things served with tea:

For flavouring or sweetening of tea:

Cakes and pastries:


Fresh and dried fruit:

  • fresh apples, pears, grapes, oranges, mandarins, peaches, apricots, watermelon, honeydew melon, etc
  • fruit salad
  • raisins, dried apples, dates, figs, etc
  • mixed nuts

Additional beverages:

Recipe source: family recipe/traditional Russian recipes.


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