The Irish love their tea. Hot tea, I should add…because in Ireland, even on the warmest day, tea is never served cold.
And, in an Irish home, tea is typically drunk throughout the day: with breakfast, at elevenses (a morning snack, typically served around 11am), at 3pm, after dinner and, of course, any time a friend calls in (stops by).*
If you are invited to an Irish home, you can expect to be offered a cup of tea within a few minutes of crossing the threshold. But there’s a catch…you, the guest, are not allowed to accept…at least not on the first ask.
Confused? Don’t worry…it’s an Irish thing! And, having learned the hard way, I’m happy to offer some friendly advice.
So…here’s the skinny: if you are offered a cup of tea while in someone’s home…it is polite (dare I say “expected”) that you say “no” with the first ask. Even if you’re dying for a cup of tea…just say “No thanks.” and wait.
I say “wait” because in an Irish home you will be asked a second time. And, funny enough, “no” is what you should say the second time you are asked. Strange? I know, but it is not polite to say “yes”…yet.
It is only after the third ask, and there usually is a third ask, that you may finally say, “I’d love one thanks.” or “That sounds great.” Then your host/hostess will put on the kettle and you’ll be on to another round of questions about milk, no milk, strong or weak, biscuit or no biscuit. The Irish and their tea…it’s serious business!
The absolute exception to the above happens only in situations where you and your host/hostess are on very friendly terms. This being the case, you may on first ask be completely honest and say “yes” straight away.
Conversely, it is important to remember that when an Irish person comes to your home, they will expect you to offer them a cup of tea…three times! You should anticipate that your guest will say “no” the first time you offer and the second time too. But the third time, you may finally hear a “yes”, in which case you are off and running. Hmmm…now you need to know that there are many different ways to serve tea in Ireland. But, before I get too far ahead of myself, let me wrap the above up by adding that if your guest says “no” the third time you offer tea, you can drop the matter altogether and know you’ve done your part to be polite.
So now…here’s a quick guide to serving and making the perfect cup of tea in Ireland.
Serving Tea in Ireland
There are many ways to serve tea in Ireland and though it is up to you to decide for yourself what you like best, you must also take into account the preferences of your guests. The things you will need to consider include: tea cups or mugs, jug of milk or tetra pack, pre-warming the tea pot and cups or not. Much of this depends on how well you know the person you are having tea with. For example, a tetra pack of milk on the table is an absolute disgrace, unless you are the best of friends or you are serving a workman doing a job in your home. Did you just do a double take on the last bit of that previous sentence? If so, you read it right. In an Irish home it is not uncommon to offer your painter, electrician or gardener a cup of tea while they are working away. And they may sit at your table and even ask you for a biscuit (a cookie)!
Some guests like the first draw of tea, especially in the evening, while others prefer their tea strong enough to trot a mouse on (meaning it is really black and strong). Some people pour milk into their cup before they add the tea, while others do the reverse, and some take no milk at all. Still others prefer a squeeze of lemon, some sugar, or both. These are questions you should ask your guest as your are serving them. And, while this all sounds like a lot of trouble, it actually happens so fast and naturally that after the first few times you don’t even think about it any more.
And finally, some Irish people really prefer to take their tea in a china cup with a saucer while others prefer a mug. Generally, here is how I do things in my Irish home: guests I want to impress get a china cup and saucer; guest with whom I am very friendly get a big, comfortable, mug (so do my children); my husband gets a china mug; and workmen who come to our home get my special “workman” mugs (yes, I have mugs especially for the men who come to fix things in our home!).
To make the perfect cup of tea, I take my lead from the Master Tea Blenders at Bewley’s Tea.
- Boil some fresh water then use a little to warm the teapot and also your cup. After a minute or so, strain the water off into the sink.
- Pop your teabags into the teapot – how many is up to you but one per cup is recommended. (I usually add two tea bags to my 4-6 cup pot)
- Add freshly boiled water straight away, then let the leaves infuse for 3-5 minutes.
- Remove the teabag, give the tea a quick stir, offer the first draw to whoever takes their tea light, add some milk, sit back, sip and enjoy!
Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credits:
* Statistically speaking, Irish people are the second biggest consumer of tea per person. Turkey comes first and Great Britain is behind us in third. To see more visit theatlantic.com.
Teaology with Denis Daly, Master Blender at Barry’s Tea at http://youtu.be/H79Rhn7LGY8
An excellent radio documentary on tea in Ireland on Newstalk 106 at http://www.newstalk.ie/player/podcasts/Documentary_on_Newstalk/Newstalk_Documentaries/58458/0/documentary_on_newstalk_tea_please/cp_10
More about the history of tea in Ireland at http://www.netplaces.com/irish-history/family-and-food/a-cup-of-irish-tea.htm
Irish Tea and Biscuits at http://www.irelandfavorites.com/irish-tea-biscuits/.html
The worst mistakes Irish people make when brewing a cup of tea at http://www.dailyedge.ie/barrys-tea-master-tea-brewer-tips-1480207-May2014/
My favourite teapots are sold at Avoca Handweavers, see them here.
Information about hospitality and the Brehon Laws is here
And, lastly, two Father Ted videos showing the strong and very funny culture of tea in Ireland: