Tea in Ireland

Tea in Ireland:
Mainstay — to Moral Decay — to Mainstay

As one of the world’s top per-capita consumers of tea, Ireland takes its brew seriously—yet the history of tea in Ireland reveals a intriguing past. Today we know that drinking tea has numerous health benefits, but the 1894 New York Times relates that the House of Commons questioned the Chief Secretary for Ireland about a report linking tea consumption to depression, insomnia, and, ultimately, insanity!

irish tea montage

Tea Frowned Upon

At its introduction in the country, tea was a luxury item. However, when the price fell in 1784, those in the lower economic classes could afford an inexpensive version; they then masked its inferior quality by making a very strong brew and generously adding milk. By the 1830s, tea had become a mainstay.

Following the Great Famine (1840s) and the subsequent prolonged poverty and agricultural depression, many people could not afford nutritious food—but tea continued to be cheap and plentiful.

Detractors decried the beverage, however, especially as doctors of the time believed tea to be a nervous stimulant. And so, tea was blamed for society’s ills:

cliff 1 CROP SMDrinking tea . . .

  • “is a form of laziness which produces—there can be no doubt about it—mischievous results” (Irish Times, 1881)
  • is addictive and leads to moral decay (Irish Times, 1881)
  • leads to social backwardness
  • causes women to neglect their duties to their children and household
  • is a waste of money

Tea Finally Embraced

Eventually, tea became fully accepted as a (positive!) dietary staple, and the London Tea Auction supplied Ireland—as well as much of the world—with tea produced in Assam, in northern India.

After World War II disrupted the tea trade, Ireland established Tea Importers Ltd to import tea directly to Ireland from the tea producers themselves. At first, tea was mostly shipped from India, where it was produced for only 5 to 6 months of the year, requiring storage for the remainder of the year.

In the 1960s, tea began to be purchased from Africa as well. This tea was produced year-round and was being processed by the then-new crush-tear-curl (CTC) method. The fresh hearty tea from Africa was mixed with the stored, lighter Indian tea—thereby beginning the rich tradition of blends that are unique to Ireland and that continue to this day.

Photography by Alissa Rheinheimer. Sources include: (1) Digesting the Medical Past,” by I. Miller, Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland, Univ. of Ulster, (2) Irish Tea Industry–A Brief History,” Fitzpatrick and Co., (3) The Irish Times, 2/24/15, (4) “Tea-drinking in Early Nineteenth Century Ireland,” Pouring Tea, March 21, 2013, (5) “Tea Drinking in Ireland,” New York Times, June 29, 1894.


Never Underestimate the Power of a Teapot

Teapot as Art

In the Which One Doesn’t Belong game, it’s pretty obvious which teapot here is not exactly a thing of beauty.

teapot montage

But they all can be used to make tea. And the very act of making tea—not to mention drinking tea—reduces stress.

Teapot as Calming Agent 

Researchers Cross and Michaels (2009) assert that

the ritual of making and consuming tea does make an important contribution to the overall effect of mediating stress. . . . [D]uring periods of stress tea’s reputation for inducing calm extends beyond the effects of its physical properties on our bodies and brains. The symbolic dimensions of tea . . . perform a complex socio-psychological function.

light fixtureTeapot as Tchotchke

But if we go beyond the intended use of teapots, we find all sorts of things.

Charming teapot birdhouses, teapot decorations, teapot light fixtures abound.

And Teapot as Scientific Instrument

Back in the 1960s—before we knew much about the role of CFCs in our environment—scientist James Lovelock developed a detector to measure atmospheric CFC.

To continue his research, Lovelock embarked on an expedition aboard the RRS Shackleton in 1972. However, he soon realized that the seawater pumped in by the ship for research purposes was too contaminated for his purposes.

So, Lovelock tried scooping up seawater using a bucket tied to a rope, but the ship was moving too fast and he was in danger of being pulled overboard. In his search for something more suitable, he ended up with tea ware!

As Walker (2007:141) relates:

an old aluminum teapot, now retired from active duty, would be just the thing. From then onward Lovelock cheerfully used this teapot to scoop up his daily water samples.

And these samples showed that CFCs were present everywhere, laying the groundwork for later work by S. Rowland and M. Molina that linked ozone depletion and CFCs.

Even a Lowly Teapot: Agent of Power

While the utilitarian teapot pictured above may not be considered beautiful by most, it can certainly:

  • delight
  • calm
  • help solve our world’s problems in unexpected ways
  • make a pot of tea, which itself delights, calms, and helps solves problems in unexpected ways

Cross, M. and R. Michaels. “The Social Psychological Effects of Tea Consumption on Stress.” 2009.

Walker, G. An Ocean of Air, Orlando, FL: Harcourt. 2007. 

Juice, Fruit Tea, or Tea for Antioxidants?

fruit bowl_low resIt is pretty much common knowledge that antioxidants play a role in slowing the aging process (yes!) among many other health benefits. And fruit contains antioxidants.

Juicy News

Juice companies who supposedly have only our health in mind have jumped on this, citing studies that indicate that “our” juice has more antioxidants than “their” juice. And research has borne out the fact that juices indeed retain antioxidants from their original fruit.juice 1_low res

These antioxidants may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease (e.g., Mullen et al.’s 2007 paper cites purple grape, grapefruit, cranberry, and apple juices as being particularly valuable).

A more recent study evaluated juice that the researchers made from fresh fruit, and even after heat treatment (as in pasteurization), found that they “are good sources of antioxidants” (Benmeziane et al. 2016).

But there’s all that sugar, I say!—without the fiber that whole fruit provides.

But, of course, fruit juices, especially those without added sugar, could be a good option if people dislike or have trouble eating whole fruit.

FruiTea News

fruit tea 1_low resSo what about fruit teas? Well, their antioxidant levels have also been evaluated.

One study by Simon et al. (2016) compared 18 fruit teas . . . and discovered that the more ingredients (11 vs 6) that the fruit tea contained, the lower the levels of antioxidant capacity and polyphenol content. Which seems odd.

But when the researchers delved into their results, they found that the base of the fruit teas—hibiscus and apple—had higher levels of antioxidants than did the other ingredients (which were not listed in their article).

As the scientists point out, this could be because the antioxidants weren’t extracted from those other ingredients at brewing temperature, or they were destroyed at that temperature, or they were never there to begin with.

So while all of the fruit teas in this study did contain antioxidants, some contained more than others.

BUT, Plain Old Black Tea Wins the Antioxidant Contest!

black tea_low resYep, Simon and colleagues found that when compared to the fruit teas, the 2 samples of black tea (1 ingredient in each) had even more antioxidant capacity and a lot more polyphenols!

So because I am so totally on board for the anti-aging component of antioxidants—the more the better, right?!—I’m going to have another cup or two or three of tea, the Camellia sinensis one.

(And it certainly won’t hurt to have a cup of caffeine-free fruit tea later tonight. . . .)

Teas pictured here are available at TeaHaus. The fruit tea is caffeine-free Blood Orange, and the black tea is Darjeeling Rarity, a second flush black tea.

Benmeziane, F., A. M. Abdourhamane, and A. Guedaoura. “Nutritional quality and bioactive compounds of some fruit juices,” Advances in Environmental Biology 10(4):242. 2016.

Mullen, W., S. C. Marks, and A. Crozier. “Evaluation of phenolic compounds in commercial fruit juices and fruit drinks,” J Agric Food Chem 55(8):3148–57. 2007.

Simon, I., D. Simedru, L. Dordai, E. Luca, V. Fuss, and A. Becze. “Evaluation of the antioxidant capacity and total polyphenols in different fruit teas,” Studia Universitatis Babes-Bolyai. Chemia 61(3):505. 2016.

Aaarrrghh! Can Tea Rescue This Day?

There are days and then there are days and then there are those days! And we’ve all had them. You know the drill.

I am going to quit my job and leave my family and sell my possessions and get rid of my car and start a new life in a new place and be a minimalist so that I don’t own anything that ever has to be repaired or that requires reading an owner’s manual that I don’t understand and I never have to answer another question and I never ever have to figure out why Alexa never understands the question I am asking her.

Yep, those days.


YES!!!!!!!! (Sometimes, you just need a lot.)

desk and tea

Myth: Green Tea Is Healthier than Black Tea


I hear it all the time: green tea has more health benefits than does black tea.

Yes, green tea is extremely beneficial for us. . . . but so is black tea. And oolong. And white.

So why do people think that green tea is healthier?

rose dry and wet  milky jade dry and wet_bkgr blur

If we think about how and where and why research is done, this idea makes some sense.

For one, early studies came out of primarily green tea drinking countries such as China and Japan.

And secondly, these areas have been pretty ideal for studies using large groups of people.

That’s because you can find communities in which most people are drinking the same kind of tea, from the same tea garden. Further, they will probably be brewing them in a similar fashion.

Think about how many variables this rules out! Everyone is drinking the same tea—the same plant grown in the same place and processed in the same way and consumed in a similar fashion. This allows researchers to determine, for example, that x results are due to the amount of tea consumed—because most other factors are the same.

ll-tea_crop-2When we look at research into the health benefits of green tea vs the health benefits of black tea, we find that both have benefits.

For example, both green and black tea seem to protect our cognition and functional ability as we age.

And here, polyphenols—antioxidants naturally found in plants—are key. And there are a lot of polyphenols in tea leaves.

In green tea, the polyphenols remain as simple polyphenols. In black tea, they are converted into more complex forms. But in both green and black tea, the polyphenols have the same antioxidant potency (Leung et al. 2001).

And what does that mean for our health?

Well, polyphenols do a lot, helping to protect our brains from:

  • damage by free radicals
  • damage to neurons
  • stroke
  • depression
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • toxins
  • cognitive decline

The bottom line?

Drink tea. Whatever type you prefer. 

Leung, L. K., et al. “Theaflavins in Black Tea and Catechins in Green Tea Are Equally Effective Antioxidants,” Journal of Nutrition 131(9):2248–51. 2001.

Can You Re-infuse Black Tea?

Can You Re-infuse Black Tea?


End of story.

*Okay, two, maybe three, exceptions



Basically, yes. I’ll get to those exceptions—but first let me repeat:

most black teas—even high-quality loose leaf teas—cannot be satisfactorily re-brewed

Yes, I know that you can get something out of those leaves. Maybe even something drinkable.

But good? Nah.

Stick to the greens and whites and oolongs for re-brews, to the teas that actually improve with re-brewing.

Why Not?

So here are some reasons why black teas are a one-time thing.autumn-spice-wet-frame-2

Many of the black teas are CTC, which means they are small pieces of leaves, with a lot of exposed surface area. They release their flavor in the first few minutes of brewing and that’s pretty much it. To put it another way, many of the substances that contribute both flavor and health benefits (like those polyphenols we always hear about) are extracted quickly.

Which brings up a related point—about doing a first brew to extract the caffeine and drinking only the second infusion. Really bad idea.

First off, in studies of tea bags, it takes over five minutes of brewing to remove 80% of the caffeine. Which means the second brew still contains caffeine but has very little flavor or health benefits left (because those were extracted quickly). A circular argument.

With whole leaf green, white, and oolong teas, the flavor—and the caffeine—is maintained over multiple infusions. For those teas that have been shaped into pearls or rolled, each infusion will unfurl the leaves more fully, releasing additional caffeine and flavor.

The Exceptions to This Inviolable Rule

So this brings us to those black tea exceptions. One example is Hong Cha Java, a whole leaf tea that leans toward the oolongs, which can (and often should) be re-brewed.

Another candidate is Black Gunpowder. Because this tea is so tightly rolled, it takes awhile to open up, which means that when you add hot water a second time, the leaves will continue to yield flavor as they fully unfurl.571-wet_0478

And there’s China Yunnan Golden Downy Pekoe.

During brewing, the tightly rolled curls open into full leaves—and even something akin to art as seen here with this beautiful birdlike bud set.

So I re-brewed it, and got what looked like a decently dark infusion. It even tasted not bad—

—until I compared it to the first brew.

All those notes that make this tea a complex and rewarding cup are gone. Yes, the second brew is drinkable, but that’s about it.

What to Do, What to Do

Easy. Savor that cup of black tea.

Then toss the spent leaves into the compost bin with a clear conscience.

Teas pictured: (top) montage of Assam FTGFOP1 Mangalam, black classic; (middle) Autumn Spice, black aroma, brewed leaves; (bottom) China Yunnan Golden Downy Pekoe, black classic, brewed leaves. All available from teahouse.com.