Tea- or tae as it’s known in The Emerald Isle- is the cornerstone upon which a lot of our core cultural values and principles are built.
We love our tea in Ireland.
We rank in the top three largest consumers in the world per capita- behind Morocco and Turkey- leaving the Brits in our wake at number five. (It’s always great to get one up on them across the water.)
It all started across in China (as most things do) a really, really, really long time ago. It was discovered by the Emperor of China at the time- or so the legend goes- and folks drank it for its medicinal purposes.
It then made its way to England some time later, concealed under the bloomers of a Portuguese princess- Catherine of Braganza- fair play to her. At the time though, it was very expensive due to a high tax rate; only royalty, and the rich, high-browed, stiff necks could partake.
At first, it was much too expensive for our disadvantaged ancestors.
A couple of hundred years later however- thanks to improved economic conditions, and the determination of some resolute smugglers- tea made its way to Ireland.
Funnily enough, this trend continues today, as boxes of Lyons and Barry’s tea are smuggled all around the world to our family members living abroad, myself included.
For those who have had the pleasure of being welcomed into an Irish home at some point in time- you will know that the first port of call is always to get the kettle boiled, and to grab the good biscuits from the cupboard.
It is a ritual back home, and upon accepting the invitation, we are taken on a wonderful journey.
C.E. Murphy- the American born author of ‘Urban Shaman’- summed up that initial experience perfectly.
In Ireland, you go to someone’s house, and they ask you if you want a cup of tea. You say no, thank you, you’re really just fine. They ask if you’re sure. You say of course you’re sure, really, you don’t need a thing.
Except they pronounce it ‘ting’. You don’t need a ‘ting’.
Well, they say then, I was going to get myself some anyway, so it would be no trouble. Ah, you say, well, if you were going to get yourself some, I wouldn’t mind a spot of tea, at that, so long as it’s no trouble and I can give you a hand in the kitchen. Then you go through the whole thing all over again until you both end up in the kitchen drinking tea and chatting.
In America, someone asks you if you want a cup of tea, you say no, and then you don’t get any damned tea.
I liked the Irish way better.
A copious amount of tea is consumed in Ireland on a daily basis- and indeed by Irish people living abroad- but why? Why is it that this seemingly run-of-the-mill hot beverage is such an innate part of the culture of an entire nation, and what makes it so special?
Well- as an avid tea drinker myself- I have some thoughts.
Tea brings people together, from any and all walks of life.
Be it a family gathering, or a visit from those college friends whom you haven’t seen for a long time, or maybe your new boyfriend or girlfriend swings by to meet the parents- whatever the case- fill the kettle and grab the biscuits from the press.
It could be that there is cause for celebration- a job interview that went well, news of a recent engagement or little bundle of joy on the way, or a welcome home for that brother or sister who had been living abroad- lovely- break out the bikkies and lob three tea bags into the pot.
We take great pride in our community- and our heritage- and this delicious brew plays an integral role within it.
Look at the great on-going disputes of our time- Leinster or Munster, King or Tayto, Keane or McCarthy, Westlife or Boyzone.
Top of that list is the endless tea debate- Lyons or Barry’s. I won’t open up that can of worms today (Lyons every time), but we have strong opinions based upon our upbringing, our beliefs and our experiences.
We also take great pride in the art of making the perfect cup of tea, and everyone has their own ideas, methods and strict procedures that they like to follow. Similarly, we all have our different taste preferences, and ingredients in which we like to use.
My good friend Emmett for instance- a proud Tipperary man- will only drink tea when it is infused with Thurles milk, nothing else will do. You have to respect that.
It is a joy to witness an artist at work- a person working passionately towards creating something breathtaking. Making tea is an art in itself- and it should be approached with care and dignity.
When I flick the kettle into life, and reach for the tea bags, I don’t just go through the motions. I try to put my heart into it every time- each part of the process is executed meticulously- and it shows in the result.
One of my pet peeves is when inexperienced, discourteous hands take to the task- a classic example is when the tea bag, milk, and sugar all go in at the start before the boiling water. I mean, who are these rookies?
Yet again, I digress.
Tea is extremely therapeutic, and whether it is enjoyed in the company of others or alone, it is enormously comforting.
It can provide us with a soothing sense of calm during those solitary, peaceful moments where we are encouraged to look inwards to find answers to our burning questions.
It can act as a flowing channel of encouragement in which to open up and share our thoughts with others.
During our dark days, an inviting cup of tea offers a warm embrace and a shelter from the cold.
Sometimes it is as if the brew takes human form, in those moments where you desperately need it.
It can offer reassurance with each and every sip during times when we may doubt ourselves- conversely- it can offer kind words on a job well done in fleeting moments of triumph.
It can help to shed light along the path which we find ourselves on- and give us direction and support when trying to decide upon what step to take next.
It can also act as a facilitator of ideas- a creative fluid that sparks us into action- bringing with it clarity of vision and thought; it can assist the artistic mind in invoking the muse.
Oftentimes we undergo a deep spiritual experience; each mouthful sending us on a journey through time and space- past, present or future- within this realm or the next.
Tea can transport us home from any point on the map, sit us down in our favorite chair in the living room with our family and friends, and for those 10 minutes, make us feel like we had never left.
It can instantly take us to places we’ve never been but have always wanted to visit, it can carry us to lands which we didn’t even know existed, or it can just as easily take us back to places that we’ve been in the past, but now exist merely as memories.
Within this unassuming brew, a boundless unseen power is at work.
It eloquently emboldens our imaginations- and its influence is felt around the globe.
The delicate seams which exist between the diverse cultures of the world strengthen with every sip.
It provides a spiritual passage into the heart of a nation; allowing the drinker to be at one with the flow of our enchanted island.
It can help us to recognize strengths and virtues within that we may not have known to be present.
It can provide us with the stimulus we need to pursue our wildest dreams- to achieve, and to prosper.
It warms the heart, and lifts the soul.
With each mouthful we are reminded of the simple pleasures of life; a life in which we are so very privileged to be gifted with.
So, stick on the kettle- and savor every last drop.