I love me a good cup of tea. I grew up drinking tea and like most tea drinkers, I have strong feelings on what makes a good cup and can be a little obnoxious about it. It’s my tea or the high seas, I say (<– I don’t actually say this).
First, some background: my mom’s mom is from Ireland and the Irish love them some tea. In my family, tea is served constantly – any time anyone stops by, at family gatherings, before meals, after meals, during meals. The kettle is always on.
This Father Ted clip pretty much sums up Irish people and tea (and cake). (And if you haven’t yet seen Father Ted, please Netflix that biz immediately.)
The Irish tea tradition, as I understand it from my own family, is different from the British tradition, where people drink tea with lemon and honey and sugar and things like that. Irish people drink tea with milk and maybe some sugar. No lemon slices. No honey. Also, we like our tea strong – none of this weak tea business.
Given my upbringing, my taste in tea is rather narrow. In my house (and in my grandparents’ house, and in my cousins’ and aunts’ and uncles’ houses) you’re probably only going to find one brand of tea: Red Rose. Red Rose, as it turns out, is not actually an Irish tea. It’s actually from – wait for it – Canada. Who knew? But, like Irish tea from Ireland, it’s made up of a blend of several black teas from Kenya, Ceylon, India, and Indonesia. So Red Rose tea tastes Irish. Plus, in every box of Red Rose tea, there’s an adorable figurine – beat that, Barry’s Tea.
Anyway. I like a strong cup of black tea with milk. For many years, I could handle very little else in the tea department. I’d have the occasional cup of green tea because it’s good for me and has an inoffensive flavor, and I’d always drink tea at a Japanese restaurant, but I never went in for anything exotic, flowery, or fruity. I still don’t. And I take active offense to herbal “tea.” My husband was laboring under the delusion, before we met, that his beloved cup of “peppermint tea” was actually tea – it’s not. Sorry, honey. It’s an herbal infusion, which contains no tea and therefore will not pass my lips.
However, living in other countries has forced me to broaden my tea horizons a little bit. In Argentina, I got way into yerba mate, which is actually an infusion of leaves and twigs from the yerba tree. Sounds gross, but is actually delicious and causes pleasant heart palpitations!
And I’ve even tried rooibos, which is a tea native to the Western Cape province of South Africa and is quite popular here (although I tried it for the first time at a Starbucks in DC before I left). Turns out, though, that rooibos is actually a tisane, which, according to Wikipedia, is “a catch-all term for any non-caffeinated beverage made from the infusion or decoction of herbs, spices, or other plant material.” Hm. Nonetheless, South Africans drink their rooibos with milk, which makes me think it might not be so bad.
What’s your favorite kind of tea/tisane/infusion? Do you share my distaste for anything herbal? Are you going to run out and buy some Red Rose tea right now? I hope so.
I’ll leave you with this odd little cocktail recipe I found online – instead of an Irish Coffee, it’s an Irish Tea:
- 1 tbs loose black tea, or 1 tea bag
- 1 oz whisky
- 1 oz milk or cream
- 1 tsp sugar
Brew tea in hot water for 3-5 minutes, then strain out tea. Add whiskey and other ingredients, then serve.