Posted in Kafevend Blog

A secret cup of tea

It's likely that we've all shared a secret or two over a pot of tea at some point or another in the past, but the chances that our own kettle or teapot was listening in as we did so seems rather remote. Nevertheless, this odd state of affairs is perfectly within the capabilities of various nations' intelligence agencies and is purported to have come to pass recently in one of the world's great tea drinking nations, namely Russia.

A bug in the pot!

In a Russian newspaper report over the weekend it emerged that the Russian Federal Security Service had used a bugged samovar to throw light on the dealings of senior officials who were involved in a case of bribery and corruption. One of these officials had previously been given a samovar as a present from the security service and, unbeknownst to him, it was providing a window onto his shady dealings! So what does this spy thriller type episode have to do with a hot drinks blog? Well as anyone who knows their global tea paraphernalia will tell you, a samovar is the Russian version of a tea urn.

Russian tea tradition

Tea was first introduced to Russia during the course of the 1600s, though it wasn't until a couple of centuries later that the price and availability of tea came within the reach of the wider population. From then on in it has been the number one hot drink of the Russian people. Nowadays, just as in the UK, a lot of the tea consumed is made via a teabag in a mug. However, when time permits or occasion calls for it, the traditional samovar is used. Looking like an ornate version of a tea urn, samovars are made from metals such as copper or brass. Modern samovars contain an electric heating element and, as in the case of a tea urn, there's a spout at the bottom to dispense the water. However, in the case of the samovar, there's often a space for a teapot to sit on top of the main samovar containing a very concentrated tea, which is then watered down from the samovar itself to suit each drinker's requirements.

Not the first time

On further investigation it would appear that this probably isn't the first time that a samovar has been used to listen in on conversations. In 2008 The Telegraph reported on a story that saw a samovar removed from none other than Balmoral. A present to the Queen from a Russian aerobatic team some twenty years before, its potential threat was flagged up during a security sweep by anti-surveillance experts; they were wary of its 'arcane Eastern bloc wiring' and the likelihood of a listening device disguised within it. Who would have thought that a humble cup of tea could be the grounds for such high level intrigue?

Bugged samovar story
Russian tea history

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