In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we’re turning to the beautiful, lush Emerald Isle. We’re going to look at Ireland’s most popular beverage! Contrary to popular belief, it’s not beer. Actually, it’s tea! Tea in Ireland is important stuff.
In fact, Ireland is the #3 country in tea consumption. On average, Irish folks consume more than 7 pounds of tea per person each year. That works out as 4 or more cups of tea each day. (For comparison purposes, Turkey is #1 with 27.5 lb/person. The US is #70 with 3/4 of a pound per person.)
So how do the Irish take their tea? Seriously. Very seriously…
Tea in Ireland: A Brief History
Drinking tea became popular among Ireland’s upper class in the early 1800s, and then spread down to the lower classes. At first, the quality of available tea wasn’t particularly wonderful, and people mostly brewed their tea quite strong, so everyone added a fair amount of milk. That tradition continues still.
Before the Second World War, most tea came to Ireland via English auction houses. Then and today, black tea was the most popular style by far, especially Irish Breakfast. Depending on the tea maker, Irish Breakfast may be a different blend of black teas, but traditionally, it has a good amount of Assam, a strong, malty tea from India.
However, everything changed when World War II erupted. Britain, wanting to punish Ireland for staying neutral, drastically reduced their tea ration. Although the Irish experienced many different shortages, like coal, petrol, and food, their empty tea cups seemed to be the most crippling.
After the war, Ireland cut out the middleman and began importing its own tea and exploring teas from other regions of the world. From the mid 20th-century onward, tea artisans began creating Irish blends with lighter Ceylon tea from Sri Lanka, and/or very strong Kenyan black tea, as well as Assam.
Tea in Ireland: Fun Facts
- Although they drink tea all throughout the day, the Irish have 3 “official” tea times:
- Elevenses (11 am)- tea with scones and biscuits (cookies) to hold you over to lunch
- Afternoon tea (3-5 pm)- tea with light sweets to hold you over to dinner
- High tea (6 pm or later)- also called supper or dinner, with more substantial foods like meats, fish, breads, fruit, and cheese
- In Gaelic, a “cup of tea” is “cupán tae.”
- Tea is fundamental part of Irish hospitality. It’s the perfect way to cheer up and keep warm and pleasant in a country that’s cold and rainy for much of the year.
- Tea in Ireland serves an important social function. Hosts will always offer visitors to their home a cup of tea as an icebreaker. It gives the host and the guest something to do as they settle in and get comfortable.
Whatever your choice of beverage today–green tea or green beer:
Or as they say in Ireland, sláinte!