The Tea of the Irish

For some mysterious reason March seems to be the time of the year when many people turn their thoughts to all things Irish.

Irish Teapot - Heres to Health (ETS image)
Irish Teapot – Heres to Health (ETS image)

But seriously. Of course the impetus for all of this Irish-centric behavior is the occasion of St. Patrick’s Day, an official holiday in Ireland and a few other points around the globe and one that’s not official but widely celebrated in various other places.

According to at least one fairly reliable account blue was the first color to be associated with the celebration. But that eventually fell by the wayside and nowadays it’s all about the green. And while green beer and green fast food milkshakes might be the order of the day, when it comes to tea green might be less than appropriate.

The Irish drink a lot of tea. Which is actually a bit of an understatement, since they drink more tea on a per capita basis than anyone else in the world, except the Turkish. But while you’re certainly welcome to celebrate with a cup or four of the green stuff, if you want to do things in proper Irish fashion you’re probably going to want to go with the old tried and true – black tea. It’s what they drink there, although there are some indication that younger consumers are turning to other types of tea and even (gasp!) coffee.

It’s probably fitting that the Irish have their own tea – that’s Irish breakfast tea. While the exact makeup of this tea can vary depending on who’s doing the blending, the dominant ingredient by far (and often the only one) is the robust black tea that’s grown in the Assam region of India. Irish tea firms such as Barry’s and Lyons grab the…lion’s share of the market there but other popular firms based in Ireland include Nambarrie’s, Bewley’s and Punjana.

So why do the Irish drink so much tea? If you must know you could start by turning to a 2013 book by author Juanita Browne. As the publisher’s description puts it, Put the Kettle On: The Irish Love Affair With Tea, “investigates our tea habits and the rules, the warmth, the comfort and the craic in every brew across Ireland.” As the author notes in this recent article in the Irish press, she interviewed more than 130 Irish tea drinkers in the course of a year as she was putting the book together.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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