'A sense of warmth, of family, of community': Mother's Day tea to feature traditional Russian samovars

Posted: Sunday, May 02, 2010

Dorothy Gray loves to drink tea.

Samovars, like this one for sale at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, will be featured at a tea party next weekend.

"There's just a comforting feeling when you sit down and have a warm cup of tea with a friend," she said.

That whole inviting feeling of a shared moment and teapot is the idea behind the Russian Orthodox Church's May 8 fundraiser: a Mother's Day Russian Tea and vintage clothing fashion show.

"It's to visit and let people see friends and family they haven't seen in awhile," she said. "It'll kick off Mother's Day weekend."

What makes this event special and a "Russian tea" will be the display of samovars, or Russian teapots, as well as the way the tea is prepared, she said.

Samovars are a Russian cultural tradition. A teapot filled with highly concentrated tea brewed from tea leaves sits on top of a water boiler that is heated from below. A spigot on the boiler serves to dilute the concentrated tea with the hot water.

Gregory Weissenberg is a Russian and History teacher at Soldotna High School and spoke to the samovar tradition. He grew up in the Soviet Union and said many hours were spent around the samovar daily to share tea and time with

everyone in his family's cramped one-room apartment.

"There is something homey about these samovars," he said. "A sense of warmth, of family, of community."

In Russia, pre-packaged tea is frowned upon and called "postman's tea" because the little packages look like envelopes, he said.

"They never drink this sort of tea," he said.

Explaining the roots of the word, Weissenberg said, samovar literally means, "self-boiler" referring to the contained water heater.

Weissenberg still drinks tea daily and brews it in the samovar ritual of boiling the water, rinsing the teapot three times, and then steeping the tea. Tea is usually drunk with honey instead of sugar or sipped along with spoonfuls of jam, he said.

"I haven't been back to the old country for awhile but I would say Russians probably drink more tea than vodka, to break one stereotype," he said.

At the Mother's Day Russian tea at the Senior Center, Gray invites community members to bring their samovars to put out on display.

"The tradition is still very much alive today," Gray said about samovars, if people are serving tea with meals or making it for large numbers of people. "We won't actually be using the samovars but it's the same principal," she said.

Funky Monkey Coffee House will cater the event and the Enchanted Forest Tea Shoppe in Soldotna will provide the tea. There will be a vintage fashion show by Curtain Call Consignment Boutique and a cakewalk for children. Russian pianist Natasha Vaissenberg will provide the music with Sue Biggs on violin.

"This year all proceeds will be going to Kenai's only National Historic Landmark," she said, which is the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church. The church is being restored this summer.

Gray said she's hoping the Mother's Day Russian tea will become a tradition on the Kenai Peninsula, just like the samovar itself.

Tickets must be purchased in advance for the event before Wednesday. The Mother's Day Russian Tea will be held at the Kenai Senior Center May 8 from 2 to 4 p.m. Tickets are $35 for a family of four, or $15 per person and are available at Enchanted Forrest Tea Shoppe, River City Books and the Funky Monkey. For more information, call 776-5220 or 283-4156.

Tickets will not be available at the door.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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