Say what you want about the Irish, but don’t say they’re not a nation of fanatical tea drinkers. As of 2009, the Irish were tied for second place (with Mauritania, of all places) for annual per capita consumption of tea. The Mauritanians and the Irish each drank an average of a little more than seven pounds of tea that year, which isn’t so shabby. They were topped by the inhabitants of the United Arab Emirates, who drank almost twice as much as tea, or nearly 14 pounds per person. Though renowned for their legendary tea-drinking prowess, the inhabitants of the United Kingdom only ranked in fifth place worldwide, after the aforementioned, as well as Turkey and Seychelles.
So we’ve established that the Irish like their tea pretty well and not surprisingly there are a number of popular Irish tea brands that have sprung up over the course of the years. Among them are Lyons Tea, who got underway in Dublin in 1902 and who pride themselves as being the firm responsible for “introducing Ireland to the first ever pyramid-shaped tea bag!” This milestone came about in 2004, some decades after the company switched to round tea bags in the late Seventies.
The birth of the tea company with the ever so Irish sounding name of Punjana (the name is actually taken from the Punjab region bordering India and Pakistan) came six years before that of Lyons, in 1896, when the Thompson family went into the tea biz in Belfast. All these years later the company is still owned by the same family.
One of the earliest of the Irish tea firms still doing business today, Bewley’s got underway in 1835. As the company notes at its web site, “In 1835 Samuel Bewley and his son Charles dared to break the East India Company’s monopoly by importing 2,099 chests of tea on board the clipper ship The Hellas, the first ship chartered directly from Canton in China to Dublin. Remember, at this time, Ireland had yet to develop its thirst for tea.” Obviously the risk paid off and the company describes itself today as “the largest and most recognised tea and fresh coffee brand in Ireland.”
Last but certainly not least is Barry’s Tea, founded in 1901 by James J. Barry. Though the company sourced their tea from India and Ceylon at first, in the Sixties they began using tea from East Africa, which was very well received. Today Barry’s Tea claims to account for forty percent of all tea sales in Ireland.
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