If you ask anyone abroad what the national beverage of Ireland is, I would wager that they’re likely to say Guinness. After all, Guinness has been successfully plying their trade for years now – 258 years, to be exact – with Irishness as a large part of its brand persona. It has the harp, and the Irish music, and that ad at Christmas that shows Dublin looking perfect and makes you feel a tingle of excitement… I mean, Guinness really puts forward a good, solid argument for why it’s the natural choice for the nation’s official beverage.
Despite all of this however, Guinness just doesn’t get the job done. It doesn’t win that coveted spot in the hearts of Irish people everywhere. It’s not what Irish people ask their mammies to send them when they move abroad, to be drank with packets of Taytos and slices of brown bread with real butter.
Clearly, the national beverage of Ireland is tea.
… and not just any tea. You’re either a Lyons tea person, or a Barry’s tea person. There’s no room for other, lesser brands of tea. Get away out of here with your Lipton, Twinings or Tetley’s. Don’t waste your breath offering PG Tips. Lyons or Barry’s are the only acceptable brands of tea on this island. If you’ve ever watched Father Ted, the character of Mrs. Doyle is not so much a caricature as a slight exaggeration; when you visit someone’s home, often one of the first questions they’ll ask you is whether you’d like a cup of tea, and if you decline, you will be asked if you’re sure. If you decline again, you’ll be asked to reconsider, and the cycle will generally continue until you give in… so really you might as well accept the first offer, if only to save time.
I am actually an Irish anomaly; I held out on drinking tea for about 26 years. All my life, I drank only hot chocolate – preferably with many, many mini-marshmallows – until a fateful day four years ago when I finally surrendered and joined the tea-drinking masses. In the end, I was no match for the endless national browbeating. I now drink tea (Barry’s, obviously, since it’s undeniably the superior brand) and coffee (Nespresso Dulsão capusules are my favourite) and I don’t even sweeten it.
I know. Big strides.
It turns out tea is useful for every occasion. Sweet tea if you’re in shock, and iced tea if you’re too warm. Hot tea and biscuits for chats with friends, and hot tea and a book for evenings alone. Coca tea for altitude sickness, and chamomile tea for winding down. Tea cups if you’re feeling fancy, and mugs of tea if you mean business. I have fully come around. I now understand the wonders of tea. It is multipurpose, much like the pancake.
I do have a secret though. A terrible, shameful secret. Sometimes I crave something a little more… exotic. Sometimes the taste of Barry’s isn’t enough to get my juices flowing, and so, I have a confession to make. I hope you’re sitting down for this.
For the past few years I’ve been cheating on Barry’s tea.
About three years ago, somewhere in the state of Florida, I came across Tazo tea and fell deeply in love with the variety* available. There was zen tea, chai tea, pumpkin spice tea, and I piled boxes of the stuff into my Target shopping cart with the sort of frenzied excitement I usually reserve for a sporting event or a trip to the zoo. I arrived back in Ireland and stacked my Tazo tea collection in the bedroom, far away from the box of Barry’s so as not to feel guilt over this infideli-tea**.
Since then, every trip to America has involved stripping the aisles of Target of all boxes of Tazo tea. They are one of three American items that I insist on hoarding like I’m preparing for an impending apocalypse. The other two items are peanut butter M&Ms – which for some reason that is beyond human comprehension have yet to reach Irish shores – and the honey that comes in the bear-shaped container***.
I also compulsively raid hotel rooms for their individually packaged teabags, and now have a tea chest in the living room that houses an impressive number of truly bizarre tea flavours. Not only have I become a tea-drinker, but I have developed a natural curiosi-tea**** for all the different flavours out there and their effects. I have become a tea explorer. I try to drink tea wherever I go now, to see what’s out there that I haven’t yet discovered. As a late bloomer, I find myself trying to make up for lost (tea) time. Moroccan mint tea was a fast favourite. Matcha tea in Japan was also delicious.
Still though, I always seem to come back to Barry’s in the end.
My once-dormant Irish tea gene must be a dominant one.
*Varie-tea! It took enormous willpower not to insert that pun.
***I cannot explain my love for the honey except to say that the bear-shaped bottle just cheers me up no end, although I did once make the mistake of microwaving one of them and you should know that it was a tragic mistake. The bear melted and shrank until he was a hideously deformed, stumpy version of his former self. It was quite depressing. He still had his eyes and they had changed shape just enough to look sort of accusatory and horrified. I tried to keep him for a while but every time I caught sight of him I felt like I was in The Tell-Tale Heart; Honeybear Edition, so I finally gave him a sad burial in the bin.
I feel like this anecdote makes me sound a little peculiar.
So… pretty accurate, really.
****Don’t judge me.