Irish Tea’s a Corker
After having just spent a week soaking up Irish love and hospitality, one can’t help but feel a strong affinity for that gorgeous country and its traditions. For a heavy tea drinker, however – what a treat it is to be asked, at least half a dozen times each day – “time for a cuppa tea?” (or “cupan tae”, in Gaelic). Sure, I was familiar with the statistics that these were the highest per capita tea drinkers in the world (um… where might they rank with stout, I wonder?!) There are about 4 million people in Ireland and over 3 million are daily tea drinkers. The average Irishman or Irishwoman drinks about 4 to 6 cups a day. And now, I’ve witnessed that. People go to pubs at mid-day, and order tea – how cool is that? No need for a “café” that closes at 5 and a bar that opens at 4 – one stop drinking, and you can always find your friends in one place.
I’ve always been a fan of Assam tea (the main component of most Irish tea blends), but fortunately, I went on a serious Assam binge a few months back, when we had the privilege to have The Tea Spot’s Assam tea and Steeping Mug featured on the Anderson Cooper show. Just like many of Anderson’s viewers, I think – consciously or not, – I expected that drinking only Assam might make me a bit more like the amazing Dame Judy Dench – the plug on his live show for the tea (she drinks only Assam). Good thing – because in Ireland, tea means an Irish tea blend (just like beer means stout) in a little BAG. According to the UK Tea Council, over 90% of the tea consumed in Great Britain is in bag form, stunningly comparable to the popularity of the tea bag in the United States, and I suspect, Ireland. The way I was able to get flavor out of the bag, was to use two per serving.
Our time was spent in wonderful West Cork (Corcaigh) County – at the southern tip of the Island. There’s lots of competition coming from the big city of Dublin, so you feel lots of pride for local Cork products. Lyons (from Dublin) is the biggest brand of tea in Ireland, so in Cork, there’s a good pull for the local big-brand – Barry’s. And in the supermarket of our local fairtrade town – there’s a third brand – Barber’s Daily – also from Cork. I pulled some locals into a tasting I did of all three teas. Although they’re all the same type of blend – Assam from India, and China black and/or Kenyan tea – they have remarkably different flavor profiles. We all picked an overwhelming favorite – it was Barry’s gold blend. Later on in the day, a restaurant proprietor came by (Neil, of the wonderful Pink Elephant – exquisite dining, magical Atlantic views across Courtmacsherry bay – not to miss if you’re ever in the area) and saw my tea boxes stacked up for a photo. Most casually, he remarked – the best one’s Barry’s Gold Blend – but the loose leaf tea version – not the bag. Thank you for confirming our passion for the leaf, Neil!