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8 Things to Know About the Irish and Tea

Ireland and tea go together like holly and ivy, like Wooster and Jeeves, like flowers and vases…well, you know what I mean. Time for some more details just in case you end up popping over there for a cuppa some day.

A bit of green adds the right Irish touch to tea time! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)
A bit of green adds the right Irish touch to tea time! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

1 Ireland has fallen to #3 world-wide for tea drinking per capita

Well, it’s official – Ireland has fallen out of the top spot in terms of tea drinking per capita, according to this chart. They are now #3, with the U.K. (which includes Britain, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) in the #5 spot. This fall from the #1 place may be because the nation was split into two parts (see more about it here) – fewer tea drinkers are included in that count (but it was long enough ago that it’s probably not a factor anymore). As far as I can tell from various reports I’ve seen, tea is just as important as ever to those tea drinkers.

2 Call ’em “biscuits,” not “cookies”

Be they shortbread or chocolate chip or a myriad of other flavors, those flat baked things are called “biscuits” in Ireland (as well as other parts of the UK). Just goes to show how folks who supposedly speak the same language can have a breakdown in communication.

3 Tea beats out beer as the most common national drink

The cliché image of the drunken Irishman is not quite the reality. At least, during my stay there I didn’t see hordes of weaving, staggering Irish folks filling the streets. And when it came to tea, there was no shortage available – and no beer in sight. And several surveys have shown that my impressions were pretty accurate. Three out of four people in Ireland are steady tea drinkers. And we’re not talking the occasional cuppa here and there. The average person in Ireland drinks from 4 to 6 cups of tea per day. By survey, the top cuppa is Barry’s with two sugars and some milk.

4 Black tea dominates

Sure, green tea is touted as more healthy, pu-erh is becoming all the rage, and white teas and oolongs are really catching on, but black tea is still top of the heap in Ireland. And three brands top that heap! There are other brands, but not nearly as popular or well-known.

A few top tea brands in The Netherlands:

  • Lyon’s Tea – The number one selling tea in Ireland. A blend of teas from Kenya and Indonesia. The company was established in Dublin in 1902.
  • Barry’s Tea – The second most popular Irish tea (even though, according the #1 above, Barry’s is the more common tea). A blend of the finest teas from East Africa, first created in 1901. They didn’t become a national brand until the 1960’s.
  • Bewley’s Tea – The first tea imported directly from China, starting in 1835. At that time, the East India Company had a monopoly on importing tea. Seeing an opportunity, Samuel Bewley and his son Charles broke that monopoly by importing about 3,000 chests of tea. It’s still a popular brand today, and is based in Dublin.

5 The Irish are picky about how their tea is steeped!

Yes, there is a proper way to steep (they say “brew”) the perfect Irish tea. Start with fresh cold water, bring it to a boil but don’t let it boil too long or it will flatten the tea flavor. Use a nice earthenware teapot for steeping, such as this one decorated with Shamrocks, to keep the water hot enough for a good steep or be sure to use a cozy. You will also need to warm the pot before adding the tea and boiling water. Use a heaping teaspoon of loose tea or one teabag per cup (8 ounces) of water. Let it steep for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how strong you want your tea. Don’t steep longer than 5 minutes, though, or the tea could become bitter.

6 Mothers are very important at tea time

The Irish tea time “mother” can be female or male of any age as long as they are big enough and strong enough to firmly hold a full teapot. They serve the tea while you act as host. They put the milk or cream in the cup first (from a quarter to a third of the cup), pour in the tea, and then you get to add sugar to suit your taste.

7 Gotta have those Irish treats!

Whet your appetite for some real comforting treats that will fill you with that Irish spirit! Sure, there are scones, and the Irish seem to like them with plenty of sultanas sprinkled in, or as drop scones (which is how hubby and I make them, or herb scones made with potatoes and a variety of herbs, or even a luscious chocolate potato cake (recipes here). Other treats include the now-classic must-have for any respectable tea party: the cucumber sandwich (made with cream cheese). Sausage Rolls are another classic as well as a variety of bite-sized sandwiches, including Marmite and watercress, open smoked salmon and cream cheese, butter sandwiches, chutney and cheddar cheese, salad sandwiches, and cold lamb and Branston pickle sandwiches (recipes here). Of course, you can always munch on some Hobnobs with your tea.

8 Tea times are similar to those in Britain

Ireland has three official tea times (but they drink tea at other times, too). A proper tea host has at least five item choices for guests. This includes a selection of different kinds of sugars, whole milk, cream, and flavored creams, plus flavorings like powdered chocolate, ground nuts, and cinnamon.

  • Elevenses – Served at 11:00 AM, just like the name suggests, with scones and biscuits (cookies), enough to hold you over until lunch. Don’t forget to have some clotted cream, custard sauce, marmalades, and jams for the scones.
  • Afternoon Tea – Served between 3:00 and 5:00 PM, and includes light sweet items to accompany your tea.
  • High Tea – Served at 6:00 PM and often called supper or dinner, depending on the part of the country you’re in. This tea time is more popular in the north than the south and includes much more substantial fare such as meat, fish, breads, fruit, and that most special Irish cheese.

Final note: No matter if you’re Irish by birth or attitude, enjoy the beverage they can’t seem to get enough of – Tea!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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