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Ireland’s Bottomless Love for Tea

If you’ve ever visited a typical Irish home, you know that while you might decline the cup of tea offered, you will indeed get a cup of tea. It just wouldn’t be civilized not to give you a cuppa, unless you requested something else. Father Ted fans will know Mrs Doyle’s famous catchphrase ‘go on, go on, go on’ as she offered a cup of tea. And really, the character is so beloved because we’re all a bit like her. Irish people abroad usually miss their familiar brand of tea, which is different to what’s available in other parts of the world. And tea sets, mugs, and other tea accessories are perennially popular Irish gifts.

It is surprising to realize that tea hasn’t always been part of Irish culture. People first started drinking tea in Southeast Asia around 1000 BC, but it wasn’t available in Ireland until the early 1800s. It arrived as a luxury product, not something ordinary people would have at home. The wealthy embraced it, hosting tea parties. But it didn’t take long for the custom to spread throughout all social classes.

Ireland’s wet, cool climate no doubt adds to our appreciation of hot cup of tea. It’s the perfect thing for an autumn afternoon reading by the fire. This is consistently one of the top tea-drinking nations on earth. According to Checkout, a magazine for Irish retailers, the average person in Ireland downs 1,460 cups of tea a year. That’s an average of four cups a day.

What Makes the Perfect Irish Cup of Tea?

Ireland’s most popular tea brands can’t be easily found everywhere. If you are looking for a good substitute, search for a brand that uses a combination of Assam and Ceylon teas. Most Irish brands use more Assam than Ceylon.

Traditionally Irish tea was made with loose tea leaves in a teapot. Teabags are a relatively new development. (And records suggest the inventor was an Irish American. He was a tea merchant named Thomas Sullivan.) Whether you use loose tea in an infuser or teabags, the trick is to let the tea brew for the right amount of time. In Ireland, it is customary to ‘scald’ the tea pot. This means you warm it up by rinsing it with hot water before you make the tea. Add a dollop of milk and a little sugar, and you have a traditional cup of Irish tea.

Of course, what you serve your tea in matters. A huge range of Irish gifts are related to this beloved beverage. You can enjoy a luxurious high tea with elegant little cookies and a delicate Belleek tea set, or you can relax with a more down-to-earth mug and a scone or muffin.