The Ladies' Tea Guild

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Irish Tea Traditions for St. Patrick's Day!

"St. Patrick's Day is an enchanted time -- a day to begin transforming winter's dreams into summer's magic."-- Adrienne Cook

Which country consumes the most tea in the world? Did you guess China or Japan? Actually, it’s Ireland! According to Barry’s Tea company at, Ireland consumes more tea per capita than any other nation in the world, each person averaging 4 to 6 cups of tea per day, or 7 pounds a year. In Ireland, tea’s only challenger in popularity is Guinness ale.

Tea was first introduced to Ireland around 1835, where it became popular with the upper classes, but it had become more affordable by the mid-19th century, and its use spread to all social classes, in the country as well as the cities. Tea was available in rural areas from small groceries, and could be bartered for as well as purchased with money. This tea was entirely in loose leaf form.

Ireland imported its tea through British merchants until World War 2, when Britain sharply reduced the amount of tea it imported, for political and strategic reasons. When Ireland declared itself politically neutral regarding Britain’s war efforts, tea shipments to Ireland through British merchants ceased almost immediately. In return, the Irish government founded its own private company, Tea Importers (Eire) Ltd., and stipulated, after the war ended, that all tea imported into Ireland be bought directly from the country of origin. Irish law required all Irish tea companies to be operated through Tea Importers Ltd. until 1973, when Ireland joined the European Economic Community, which does not allow such monopolies.

The Irish prefer their tea strong with lots of milk, and there are three traditional times each day when it is served, in addition to breakfast, lunch, and in the evening after supper: for Elevenses at 11 a.m. or so, Afternoon Tea at 3 p.m. or so, and High Tea at 5 p.m. or so. High Tea, as many are discovering, is not an extra-fancy tea time with lots of pastries and delicate dishes; it is a hearty supper for the working classes, accompanied by many pots of strong tea, and this is especially true in Irish tradition.

The traditional Irish tea blends, known as Irish Breakfast blends in this country, include Assam Tea as a prominent ingredient, sometimes combined with Ceylon but often alone. Black tea from the Assam region in India has a robust flavor that takes well to a good amount of milk in the cup; some tea-lovers have been known to prefer as much as 1 part milk to 2 parts tea. In recent years, teas from East Africa have joined Ceylon or Sri Lankan tea in the most popular tea blends. Often the tea is served in a heated pot with the milk and sugar already added. Food traditionally eaten with tea includes a variety of savory and sweet dishes, like shortbread. So, instead of celebrating with a bunch of green beer and other strange foods, why not make yourself a nice cuppa, and some shortbread, and enjoy a more civilized St. Patrick's Day?

Irish Shortbread
1 cup butter
1/2 cup caster sugar (superfine/baking sugar)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
Cream the butter and sugar. Add the flour and cornstarch. Roll out and cut into squares or rounds and bake in a slow (300 degree) oven until done.
--recipe from Brenda Hyde,

Source List:
Barry’s Tea,
Hyde, Brenda, "Irish Tea Traditions"
Irish Culture and Customs,

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Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)