The English are obsessed with their tea. This is common knowledge. Less discussed (at least among Americans) is the Irish’s same devotion to it. The same, but different.
There are two subtle differences:
One, the British, in their endlessly-ever-so-polite way, will ask if you might like some tea. The Irish, pour you tea. See the difference? If you try to demure, they will stare at you quizzically.
“No tea? Are you sure?”
“Yes,” you say. “I’ve just had some.”
“Oh that’s alright then.” And then they will pour you more.
Two, the accompaniments. The British have a little cookie, maybe a half an English muffin (which, indeed, are just called muffins there). The Irish, on the other hand, often eat a second lunch. Cheese, jam, a hunk of bread, a piece of fruit, and, whenever possible, chocolate.
I fecking love the Irish.
In the US, we drink Earl Grey, or Oolong, or Chamomile. In Ireland, you drink “regular” or herbal. And in Ireland, “regular” is invariably Barry’s Gold Blend. Barry’s is, as far as I can tell, a blend of Assam tea. Barry’s over all accounts for 40% of all tea sales in Ireland. It’s reddish-brown, slightly bitter, and has a strong clear flavor, sort of like chicory and leaves.
Brewing it strong or weak is a matter of preference–adding lots of milk, not cream and definitely not SKIM milk, is standard.
My favorite memory of teatime in Ireland is from Gubbeen, the dairy in West Cork I spent a week working for. I started work at 8 a.m., but the rest of the team, 4-6 other women, depending on the day, would be there at 6:30 or 7. We did various cheesemaking type things, then would break for tea around 10 a.m. Breakfast tea was the same as what you had for afternoon tea, except maybe with peanut butter or yogurt added in.
Sometime around 9:30 a.m., Rose, the head cheesemaker, would start brewing the Barry’s and bringing out food. The owners of Gubbeen call Rose The Admiral. She was at some time an officer in the army, but more importantly, Rose is one of those women who is so brusque and efficient that she can be harsh and a little terrifying. The kind of women you immediately want to impress. Born and bred locally, in her fifties or sixties (it is entirely impossible for me to tell with Irish country dwellers…she could look younger for the fresh air and good cheese, or older from harsh weather and whiskey), Rose spends ten minutes of each cheesemaking day laying out a knife, napkin, teacup and plate for each and every dairy worker.
“It’s time for your tea. Go on now.”
Not a question or an invitation. Just, time for tea. For everyone. We would all sit and butter bread and lop off hunks of cheese and half bananas in relative silence.
Joe and I just finished 3 glorious months in Ireland, followed by one in the UK. Long enough to start jonesing for tea every day at 10 and 4, even now.