In the evenings, there is just the hint of a chill in the air. The sun is setting just a tiny bit sooner every evening. And parents are feeling a bit of an inner glow when they see all the back to school sales everywhere. It is far too soon to start bundling up, but not to start cozying up. Autumn is a season when a nice cup of Irish tea tastes especially good. Hospitality is one of the best known Irish gifts, and it often includes a cup of tea whether you want one or not. But really, who doesn’t want a steaming, warm cup of tea, especially with a bit of bread and jam?
Ireland is a nation of tea experts. We boast the second highest average tea consumption in the world, after all. The first is Turkey 6.9 lbs per person. Ireland is second at 4.8. Canada and the USA are far down the list with 1.1 and 0.5 respectively. In other words, the average Irish person drinks more than nine times as much tea as the average American. We don’t just know how to drink tea; we are experts on brewing and serving it. The difficulty is that we don’t all agree on every detail. Nonetheless, there are some agreed basics for anyone who wants to perfect the Irish gifts of making and serving tea with style and not pretense.
- For starters, you need a good teapot. None of this brewing it in the mug American style is allowed for a proper cup of tea. You can impress your guests with a matching set of teapot, pitcher, sugar bowl and cups with saucers or keep it simple with a basic ceramic teapot and mugs with sassy sayings. And if you are just sitting down for a quiet cup by yourself, a wee teapot nested into a matching cup is a lovely way to treat yourself.
- Boil water, and wait a moment for it to stop boiling. First, put a little bit of hot water in to your teapot and swirl it around to warm the pot. Then pop your tea bag or tea leaves into the pot – either works just don’t skimp on the volume – then pour in the water and let it steep. Use a tea cozy to keep your tea warm while it steeps. Functional and fabulous!
- For a really Irish cup of tea, sugar is optional but milk is close to mandatory. On a cold, damp night, just a splash of whiskey evokes feeling of sitting near a roaring turf fire in a cottage. And few Irish hosts would offer just tea – you’d want a slice of tea cake or a few biscuits (aka cookies) to go with it.
Whether you are sitting down to enjoy the peace while the children at school or catching up with a dear friend, a cup of tea really sets a warm, cozy mood. The classic cuppa is a basic part of life in Ireland, and whether it is for a wedding, birthday or other occasion, teapots, cups, tea cozies and other accessories are useful and thoughtful Irish gifts.