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Posted by on Apr 30, 2012 in 1reland, Culture & Customs, Food | 17 comments

Cuppa Tea, Anyone? Ireland’s Other “Black Stuff”

Of Course It’s Hot!
Barm Brack and tea at the Irish Tea House, NOTL

photo by fortinbras

On my second day in Ireland my Irish friend took my husband and me out to lunch. I ordered iced tea, something I did not do again. The server, who I believe was also the owner, was very polite and said, “We don’t have that. But I’ve had it before. It’s good.”

Tea in Ireland is hot. My friend, who is well acquainted with Americans, said he had another American friend visit who kept ordering hot tea, and the Irish found that very funny. Of course it’s hot. Who would order it lukewarm?

The Iced Tea Threat

It only recently occurred to me that the server might have thought I wanted a bar drink. I didn’t. I guess I could have thrown ice cubes into the tea myself! But being a visitor, I was trying to mind my manners. The BBC reported on a suspicious package left at the front door of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Stormont Building. It contained a bottle of iced tea. I swear it wasn’t me, but I wonder about the message it sent. Give us our iced tea! What do you think?

The Proper Service

It’s no secret that the Irish love their tea. The Irish drink more tea per capita than any other country. And I truly do love it as well. It did not bother me a bit that tea was offered breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the presence of tea making facilities (forget the coffee) was considered essential in a bed and breakfast room. I suppose that is in case breakfast, lunch, and dinner was not enough tea for you.

My first encounter with Irish tea, in Ireland, was at the café at Newgrange. Sandwiches and salads came in Styrofoam, but the tea was served in a small tin pitcher with china cups and a wee pitcher of milk. And I soon discovered that from small café to bread and breakfast to elegant restaurant, tea was served essentially the same way. I love that!

Irish fruit brack

Irish fruit brack, photo by slyvar

Of course you have to have your late afternoon tea time complete with biscuits and brack.

Why Irish Tea is Special

It’s interesting to note that Irish breakfast tea is a blend of black teas, mostly Assam, which is from India. The British Empire, as we know, once included India. There is more to the story about how particular the Irish have been about imported tea, which resulted in the finest quality. This web site explains more. http://www.owensirishtea.com/history.html

Tea

photo by Diane Duane

The tea is strong and dark, appealing to many coffee drinkers. It’s said the richness of the tea is why it’s served with milk (and sugar, of course) but I’m a rebel, I guess. I prefer mine straight.

The most popular Irish brands of tea are Bewley’s, Barry’s, and Lyon’s.

Why is tea so important in Ireland? Perhaps one reason is that it’s a wonderful way to welcome someone—sit down, have a cup of tea. Since ancient times the Irish have insisted on showing hospitality to visitors. To see how important tea can be, watch this Barry’s TV commercial.

Anyone thirst for a pot, yet?

Cindy Thomson is the author of Celtic Wisdom and Brigid of Ireland. She enjoys exploring Irish history, especially the Early Christian period. She has written numerous articles on Irish genealogy. Visit her blog Celtic Voices and her web site where you can sign up for her monthly newsletter.

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17 Comments

  1. My Irishman actually shudders at the very idea of iced tea. :)

    • Mine does, too. He shudders at the idea of any kind of tea that’s not Barry’s. Got him into Turkish tea (strong black tea with sugar), baby steps.

  2. The one thing that I miss the most on are trips to Ireland is iced tea. As soon as I arrive home I stop and order an iced tea with lemon at McDonalds on my way home from the airport.

  3. i like Punjana best! I’m wondering if all these iced tea drinkers are from the south, it’s not really that big of deal in Chicago!

    • I’m not a southerner, Ruby. :)

    • My mom was born and raised in Chicago and made the best iced tea ever. :)

  4. I am an Arizona girl and we drink a lot of iced tea. Betty Sanford

  5. Oh, this is such a funny thread. Iced tea has always been an issue for me when I’m in Ireland. I’ve said to more than a few waitstaff, “If you have a lot of Americans eating here, you would make them very happy if you served iced tea.” They make buckets of tea everyday in Ireland…just make one of those buckets with ice in it, and I will love you forever…LOL!

  6. I so agree with your comment Diane. I have gone as far as ordering hot tea and asking for ice but there is never quit enough ice, so I just wait until I get home. Betty

  7. Wonderful post! I love seeing how even in western cultures we’re often so very different from each other, even when it comes down to the smallest details, such as the way we drink our tea.

    At the moment we’re in Malaysia, where they have the best tea I’ve ever had: Teh Tarik. If you ever visit Malaysia, make sure you try it!

  8. The best part about traveling is adapting to the local customs. The hospitality of the Irish household is one of the hidden gems of Ireland, there is always a kettle on the stove to make a quick pot of tea for guests. If you are asked if you want a cuppa tea, say yes and enjoy the hospitality, to refuse is a bit of an insult. Save the ice tea for when you travel to Georgia, a cup of tea on a brilliant Irish morning with a currant scone or the full Irish breakfast can’t be beat. I’m ready to make my reservations now and have a good cup of Barry’s tea in a nice little seaside B&B in Kerry,

    • Well said, Brian! I would hate to see iced tea or other American items appear in Ireland. I travel to Ireland to enjoy so many things that I cannot here, and a nice cuppa (hot) tea is one of them. Yeah, I can have hot tea here in NC, but it never tastes quite as good nor does it feel the same, if that makes sense.

  9. My favorite tea is traditional Chai – introduced to me by my daughter-in-law whose family members were medical missionaries in India. “Irish Breakfast Tea” from Trader Joe’s is good, too :-) But this video makes me want Barry’s…along with the piano background music & the ambiance of the cozy kitchen!

  10. My father used to start the day with tea saying;” Cup, Tea, milk”, which he would repeat at least a dozen times. This ritual was repeated throghout the day, the only variation being after dinner he had a plate of ginger snaps with his carefully brewed pot of tea!

  11. I have grown to enjoy drinking loose-leaf tea. I make half a pot of black tea in the morning in my Brown Betty tea pot and relax with it. I started drinking tea with a box of Barry’s that was giving to me as a gift. I drank it in the morning and my kids started drinking it with me. It goes great with milk and sugar. I am temped to try Lyons and Bewley’s tea. Teas from Europe are well stocked in our stores here in San Francisco. By the way, I have never like iced tea. A cuppa hot tea with a treat is the way to go.

  12. My Irish grandmother turned me into a “real tea-drinking lady” as the owner of the B&B near Carrick-on-Shannon put it. Barry’s or Lyon’s with a bit of cream. So many American’s look at me strangely when I ask for cream instead of the standard U.S. offering of honey or lemon. :)

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