After having just spent a week soaking up Irish love and hospitality, I can’t help but feel a strong affinity for that gorgeous country and its traditions. What a treat it is for the heavy tea drinker to be asked at least half a dozen times each day, “Time for a cuppa tea?” (or “cupan tae,” in Gaelic). Sure, I was familiar with the statistics that these were the highest per capita tea drinkers in the world (um … where might they rank with stout, I wonder?!). There are about 4 million people in Ireland and over 3 million are daily tea drinkers. The average Irishman or Irishwoman drinks about 4 to 6 cups a day. And I have witnessed that. People go to pubs at mid-day and order tea … how cool is that? No need for a “café” that closes at 5:00 and a bar that opens at 4:00. One-stop drinking and you can always find your friends in one place – works for me!

I’ve always been a fan of Assam tea (the main component of most Irish tea blends), but fortunately, I went on a serious Assam binge a few months back when we had the privilege to have The Tea Spot’s Assam tea and Steeping Mug featured on the Anderson Cooper show. Just like many of Anderson’s viewers, I expected – consciously or not – that drinking Assam might make me a bit more like the amazing Dame Judy Dench – the plug on his live show for the tea (she drinks only Assam).  In Ireland, tea means an Irish tea blend (just like beer means stout) in a little BAG. According to the UK Tea Council, over 90% of the tea consumed in Great Britain is in bag form, stunningly comparable to the popularity of the tea bag in the United States, and I suspect the same is true in Ireland.  The way I was able to get flavor out of the bag was to use two per serving.

Our time was spent in wonderful West Cork (Corcaigh) County – at the southern tip of the Island. There is a of competition coming from the big city of Dublin, so you feel a lot of pride for local Cork products. Lyons (from Dublin) is the biggest brand of tea in Ireland, so in Cork, there’s a good pull for the local big brand – Barry’s.  In the supermarket of our local Fair Trade town, there’s a third brand – Barber’s Daily, also from Cork.  I pulled some locals into a tasting I did of all three teas.  Although they’re all the same type of blend – Assam from India and China black and / or Kenyan tea – they have remarkably different flavor profiles.  We all picked an overwhelming favorite – it was Barry’s Gold Blend.  Later on in the day, a restaurant proprietor came by (Neil, of the wonderful Pink Elephant – exquisite dining, magical Atlantic views across Courtmacsherry bay – not to miss if you’re ever in the area) and saw my tea boxes stacked up for a photo.  Most casually, he remarked that the best one was Barry’s Gold Blend – but the full-leaf version, not the bag.  Thank you for confirming my passion, Neil!  

Now to sample the array of teas, whole and bagged, in Paris. Report coming next month.