The drink we tend to associate with Russia is vodka—but tea, in fact, is the much more universal beverage of choice throughout the country. In Russia, the most common preparation of tea is called zavarka—and the key here is that it's not about what kind of tea you brew, but how you brew it. Get acquainted with the intricacies of Russian tea etiquette, a fundamental component of the country's social culture.
Zavarka, which is essentially a strong tea-based concentrate, is likely a product of the Russian Civil War in 1917, when the Red Army took over several large tea warehouses in Moscow, Odessa, and St. Petersburg. Before then, tea was pretty sparse—something that only the über-wealthy could afford to drink. It's difficult to poinpoint the origin of zavarka, which means "to brew" or "to cook" in Russia; but at some point in the 1920s, workers discovered that it was most economical to brew a large pot of tea concentrate, and then have each individual dilute it according to preference. Subsequently, this became the standard way of enjoying tea in Russia—and not just for the working class.
Tea as it's traditionally made in Russia lives and dies by the samovar, a heated metal container with a spigot used to boil and dispense water, and often an attachment that holds the tea concentrate. According to Bonnie Morales, chef/owner of the Russian restaurant Kachka in Portland, OR, "The samovar is the centerpiece of the Russian table. Everybody has one." In Russian famlies, the samovar is considered a precious heirloom—for rich families, it can even be made out of precious metals, featuring intricate workmanship.