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Kerry Kubilius

Russian Culture Monday: Zavarka

By June 21, 2010

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Zavarka is a part of Russian tea culture, and the process of brewing of the zavarka differs from how other cultures brew tea. What is zavarka?

When Russians make tea in the traditional way, they put a lot of tea leaves in a small teapot. Then they add hot water and let the tea leaves steep. The tea leaves are not discarded. Rather, they are left in the pot to create a concentrated brew.

This concentrated brew is added to the bottom of tea cups (or tea glasses with podstakanniks, if the host is trying to emphasize the Russian-ness of the event!). Then, water from the samovar is added to dilute the mixture so the tea is of the right strength before being drunk.

If you're trying to make zavarka at home, be sure to choose a tea that will not become bitter after a long time steeping. Russian Caravan tea - though Russian only in name - is a good choice for making zavarka if you've never made it before.

For a more complex zavarka, add herbal or fruit teas to the mixture, or brew a couple of pots of zavarka, each with a different kind of tea. Then mix the flavors or enjoy them one by one. You can use water that has just been kettle boiled, but for an ever-constant supply of hot water and a more authentic experience, invest in a Russian samovar.

For souvenir tea and making zavarka, it's possible to find Russian loose leaf tea brands in Russian supermarkets. For a look at Russian tea history, travelers to Moscow can visit the Tea-Coffee Store at 19 Myasnitskaya Street. Russians 100 years ago were making zavarka from tea purchased here! The historic building in which the shop resides was owned by a tea merchant named Perlov and was given Chinese architectural details in the 19th century to impress a visiting Chinese official. Today, the building still serves the same purpose that made it famous.

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Black Loose Leaf Tea photo credit: CC BY-NC-SA liikennevalo

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