Night owl? Then a bracing cup of Irish breakfast tea is in order for those way-too-early-it-can’t-be-morning-already mornings!
As with English breakfast teas (see my previous post), the Irish counterpart was not intended simply to deliver caffeine to the sleep-deprived. (Though that undoubtedly was a welcome perk for the overworked.)
Rather, back in 1784, when those in the lower economic classes could finally afford to buy inexpensive tea, they quickly found that said tea was pretty bad. But ever resourceful, they masked the inferior quality by making a very strong brew and then generously adding milk.
Voilà, tradition was born!
And the custom of drinking tea became hugely popular. And the Irish drank a LOT of it. And they drank the “best available tea” (Murphy 2002).
Then came World War II. As Conor Pope (2014) explains:
With the war came much greater export controls in the UK, and, when its ministry of food took over the tea trade, Ireland lost 75 per cent of its supply almost overnight.
Since the Irish were the world’s third-highest per capita tea drinkers by this time, the Irish minister for supplies took matters into his own hands and set up an importing agency.
Initially, tea was purchased directly from tea growers in India. Production took place for only 5 to 6 months of the year, so tea leaves were stored for the rest of the year. However, by the 1960s, tea was available from Africa, where tea could be produced year-round. Processed by the then-new mechanized CTC (crush/cut-tear-curl) method, this fresh—and heartier—tea was mixed with the lighter Indian tea in storage.
And voilà once again! The rich tradition of blends unique to Ireland was well on its way!
Today, very strong tea—commonly with milk—continues to be part of Irish culture. Irish breakfast teas may contain Assam, which gives a malty note and red color, but unique black tea blends abound. Darjeeling balances intensity, whereas robust teas from Africa lend heft. The strong and spicy O’Sullivan’s Favorite pictured above comes from a tea garden in Burundi.
Whatever breakfast blend you choose, chances are good that it’ll jumpstart your day!
–Pope, C. “Why we get a better cup in Ireland than all the tea in China,” The Irish Times, October 6, 2014.
–Murphy, M. “Review of Feast and Famine: Food and Nutrition in Ireland 1500–1920,” by L. A. Clarkson and E. M. Crawford. Reviews in History, October 2002.
Note: O’Sullivan’s Favorite is available at TeaHaus.com.