Making Iranian Tea, Russian Samovars
Traditionally Iranians make tea using a samovar. This is a Russian invention of the 18th century designed to brew tea that was introduced to Russia from West Mongolia in the 17th century. The first samovar factory was founded in Tula in Russia in 1778 and soon became the most popular way for making tea. It was introduced to Iran by traders both Russian and Iranian moving back and fort between the two countries.
The early samovars were made from cupronickel, red and green copper, pinchbeck and in some cases from silver. Sometimes they were plated with gold, silver, but basic metal was always brass. In the course of centuries samovar shapes changed. Until the 20th century they were all hand made and used charcoal to warm up and boil the water. Later liquid fuel like kerosene was used and currently they all work with electricity.
The water is boiled gradually in the large reservoir, there is a central tube in the middle that will carry the steam and the teapot is place on top of this tube and the steam brews the tea slowly. Tealeaves are used and tea bags are not popular. Two or more teaspoons of tealeaves will be put in the pot depending on how many teacups are required. Then the pot is 1/3 to 1/4 filled with boiling water from the reservoir through a small tap. The tea is brewed for 10 to 15 minutes. This tea is very strong and highly concentrated. Only a small amount will be poured in the cups and the rest of the cup will be filled with boiling water from the reservoir. The tea that is brewed longer is spoiled and becomes too strong.
Tea is grown in Iran and is also imported from India. The good quality tealeaves have a unique taste and perfume that is accented by brewing and steaming slowly using a samovar. Sometimes two different kinds of tea will be mixed to get the best taste and perfume. Darjeeling tea, Jahan tea from Iran and India and recently Ahmed tea from India are popular ones, however there are many other varieties available. Many Iranians have electric samovars and they can be bought from most Iranian or Russian stores. The new popular and fancy tea stores sell them too at a much higher price.
If buying a samovar you must make sure that the inside of the reservoir is not copper or lead. There is a possibility of lead or copper poisoning in such cases. There are very good quality samovars made in Iran and Japan and many Iranian stores sell them.
Most modern samovars are made from stainless steal and are very safe. There are decorative ones made in Iran. These are gold or silver-plated from the outside. Always check the inside to make sure they are properly sealed if you are going to use them. They are dangerous items to have around children, since they contain large quantities of boiling water and are normally placed on a table.
Many Iranians have replaced them by specially designed kettles with a tap for boiling hot water. They place these on stovetops to bring the water to boil and place the teapot on the top like a regular samovar. These are always used in the kitchens but make sure children do not have access to them. The tea is drank with sugar or other sweets and is the most popular drink in Iran. The teacups used in Iran are similar to many used in Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries. They are like small glasses with a saucer and might not have a handle. This makes it difficult for people who are not used to them. Milk is never added to the tea and people may like them strong or weak depending on their taste.