Radio documentary on tea

This Saturday, July 12th at 7am and Sunday, July 13th at 6pm Newstalk have a documentary that will explore the reasons why Irish people drink so much tea.

Producer Caoilin Rafferty uncovers the many secrets behind Irish tea, why we are one of the biggest tea drinking nations in the world and how our tea taste habits have changed throughout the years

The feature documentary also examines the tea rations in Ireland during World War 2, which consequently lead to the set up of the Irish Tea Importers Ltd. This meant the Irish bypassed the London Tea Auctions and bought quality tea direct from source themselves.

Tea Please also takes a trip down memory lane to talk to those who grew up drinking orthodox leaf tea and how tea bags changed everything in the seventies.

The show can be heard live on the Newstalk online player ( and will be available as a podcast afterwards.

Puer Tea of Yunnan

The pressure is on this week and the chances of getting a proper blog post written are slim to none so I leave you with this interesting video on Puer Tea of Yunnan. I’m away in Spain next week so Part 2 of the documentary will be published in my absence and then it will be back to blog posts as usual. ;-)

The Tea Trail

After reading my post about how I missed “The Tea Trail”, the BBC very kindly broadcasted a repeat! The programme looked at tea production in East Africa. Although tea was only introduced to Kenya in 1903, it is now third in the world in terms of production. The vast majority of Kenya’s tea is manufactured into CTC tea and most supermarket tea here and in the UK would use Kenyan teas in their blends. It wasn’t surprising then that this documentary focussed exclusively on East African CTC black teas.

BBC The Tea Trail

Image Source: BBC (link)

Reeve starts off in Mombasa where tea from 9 East African countries is sold at auction. From there he goes east to the central province near Nairobi through the Great Rift Valley to Kericho and on to Toro in Uganda.

Mostly looking at the social aspects of tea-growing, the documentary touched on the brutalities of colonisation, Kenya’s independence in 1963 and the current difficulties with tea production. Those difficulties include transport problems, poverty, prostitution, bandits, HIV, unemployment, working conditions, climate change and child labour. It sounds pretty grim and it was. There was no clear conclusion about what we as consumers should do in this over-commoditised situation. It seemed that supporting trans-national corporations would preserve the current work-practices but abandoning them would inflict even more poverty on the 5 million Kenyans that are employed in the tea industry. Fairtrade is offered as a possible hopeful route for Kenya and Uganda with the example of a school at Mabale Tea Factory.

But 90% of UK tea is not Fairtrade and when I hear now that the price of tea at the Mombasa auction dropped to a five-year low in December 2013 (a drop of 30% since July), it makes me worry about the knock-on effect to those involved as workers in the tea industry.

Book Review: Put the Kettle On – The Irish Love Affair with Tea

Put the Kettle On - Book“Put the Kettle On” is a book around tea rather than a book about tea. It is a gathering of memories and associations, an acknowledgement of rituals and an insight into a particular method of communication. Throughout the book, the author (Juanita Browne) steps back to allow these themes to emerge naturally without commentary, influence or analysis. The result is open, unspoilt recollections and thoughts from 65 people who are diverse in age and backgrounds but united in their love of tea.


“I can still recall the refreshing taste of tea during those times of heavy work” Peter Brady

“The tea on the bog was the best of the lot” Declan Egan

Nostalgia features heavily in the book and tea is an interesting vehicle for evoking memories. The sound of kettles, the smell of the brew, the sight of a cups or teapots and taste all contribute to a powerful force of nostalgia where memories come flooding back and loved ones are remembered. Tea breaks in hayfields and bogs are featured throughout the book and so too are glass bottles of tea in the classroom and tea rations during the war. Through the memories that are associated with tea in those situations, we get interesting insights into people’s lives.


 “we don’t have many rituals any more…now the only welcoming ritual we have is to make a cup of tea for someone” Mary McEvoy

Ritual is a word that is mentioned by many in the book but is alluded to even more often. I believe that people need rituals to help us cope with fear, anxiousness, loneliness and frustration. They offer relaxation and respite from busy lifestyles and allow our minds a little freedom while we carry out a small task. In the past we spent a large portion of our time engaging in daily rituals like writing letters, feeding chickens, mending clothes and of course harvesting and preparing food. We have mostly retained the rituals that mark life events (birthdays, funerals, Christmas) but many of our daily, soul-nurturing rituals have been replaced with more convenient and efficient habits. In a fast-paced world of pre-cooked meals, taking time to prepare a hot cup of tea can be a brief connection with something that nurtures. The ritual of making tea can be needed more than the caffeine or the heat and this was evident in many of the narratives.


“It is so packed with meaning: a sense of comfort and care and a salve to a body unable to help itself” Maria Dowling

The theme of communication is another one that runs through the book. It seems that the offering of tea is a medium through which we can express our love and empathy without having to directly address the emotions at play. The act of serving someone tea  symbolises an offer of help and is universally understood.

The other side of communication is a humorous one. For all that Irish people are an easy-going, laid-back lot, there is extraordinary sensitivity around the timing of the first offer of tea, the pace of the second proposal, the manner of acceptance and the timing of refills. Most of these “rules” are mentioned in the book but the author has the good sense to resist any search for logic!


Put the Kettle On is available from The Collins Press


“Put the Kettle On” is light, enjoyable read that explores our deep attachment to a beverage that is relatively new to the country (~250 years). I enjoyed reading about the social aspects of tea that go beyond the leaf and was surprised how many memories it brought back of my own tea-drinking childhood.

Put the Kettle On – The Irish Love Affair with Tea (Juanita Browne) is available now from The Collins Press


Guinness World Records for Tea

I’m away for this week without access to technology of any kind (no email, phone, internet etc.) so this is a scheduled post that I wrote last Thursday.  I was in holiday mode when I wrote this and was looking for something fun so here are some world records on tea:


Largest cup of Tea
The largest cup of tea is 4000 litres (7039.01 pt) in volume and was produced by GlaxoSmithKline Beecham (Private) Ltd (Sri Lanka) for Viva, at Burgher Recreation Club grounds in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on 9 October 2010. The tea cup was named the “VIVA” tea cup. The tea cup itself measured 10 ft in height and 8 ft in width. Six 2000 watt heaters and a stirrer powered by motors and generators maintained the temperature of the tea at 75 degrees celsius.


Most cups of tea made in one hour (team of 12)
The most cups of tea made in one hour by a team of 12 was 725 and this was achieved by Devonshire Tea Limited (UK), at ‘Flavour Fest’ festival, in Plymouth, UK, on 19 August 2011. This attempt took place on day one of the event called ‘Food Fest’ in Plymouth.


Largest tea bag
The largest tea bag weighs 120 kg (264 lb 8.8 oz) and was achieved by All About Tea (UK) on board HMS Warrior in Portsmouth, UK, on 16 November 2011. The tea bag measures 2.48 m (8 ft 1.64 in) in length and width.
This event was in celebration of GWR Day 2011. The tea used is called ‘Portsmouth Tea’ and is a blend of African and Indian teas. The tea bag, which was made from cotton, is capable of making over 50,000 cups of tea.


Largest collection of tea bag tags:
The largest collection of tea bag tags is 839 tags and belongs to Daniel Szabo (Hungary), in Budapest, Hungary, on 4 September 2011.
The collection was displayed to the public at SzeptEmber Feszt 2011 and has been featured in several news articles.



Largest Tea Party
The record for the largest tea party is 32,681 participants and was achieved by Dainik Bhaskar (India) for the City of Indore, at Nehru Stadium, in Indore, India, on 24 February 2008. The official brew for the event was Brooke Bond Red Label and the event was supported by Tea Board of India.


Largest Tea Cosy Knitted
The largest tea cosy was knitted by members of the public, Bupa care homes residents across the UK and resident care homes in Spain and New Zealand at Ashley Park nursing home in Guilford, UK, on 9 April 2009. The final tea cosy included 1924 squares in total. It stands at 3.9 metres high and 11.1 metres in Circumference.


Largest Tea Monument
This isn’t in the Guinness World Records but World Record Academy says that “MEITAN, China–At 73.8 meters in height, and featuring a floor area of over 5,000 square meters, this unique teapot museum of Meitan, south west China, sets the new world record for the Largest Teapot Monument”

A Nice Cup of Tea by George Orwell

This article by the famous author, George Orwell, describes his method of preparing tea. It was first published in the Evening Standard in January 1946.


A Nice Cup of Tea

By George Orwell

If you look up ‘tea’ in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.

This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.

When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:

  • First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase ‘a nice cup of tea’ invariably means Indian tea.
  • Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.
  • Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.
  • Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.
  • Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.
  • Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.
  • Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.
  • Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one’s tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.
  • Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.
  • Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.
  • Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.

Some people would answer that they don’t like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one’s ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.

George Orwell: ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’
First published: Evening Standard. — GB, London. — January 12, 1946.


Sheep dung tea

Yes, apparently it is a real thing – and no, I haven’t tried it.

The medicinal properties of various animal dung was examined in a book by William Salmon entitled English Physician (1693). Sheep dung infusions were recommended for treating smallpox, jaundice, and whooping cough. The dictionary of Prince Edward Island confirms that “they use sheep dung tea for sick people…and sheep dung is not a euphemism”. It is called “nanny tea” in the Merriam Webster but the definition is the same: “ a folk remedy for many ailments that consists of a hot infusion of sheep manure in water often with sugar”.

Not everyone recognised its medicinal merits though. In 1776, the Adulteration of Tea Act was passed by the British Parliament. This prevented traders from debasing tea with substances such as ground up sheep dung (as a way to increase the weight, I presume). English laws were applied to Ireland at the time and this one remained as an Act until the Statue Law Revision Act in 2005.

Kerry Sheep


Free Book – A History of Ireland in 100 Objects

I came across this free book when I was looking for information on tea-drinking in Ireland for the last post. The History of Ireland in 100 Objects is a book by Fintan O’Toole that describes the history of Ireland through his choice of 100 objects. It includes objects from 5000BC right up to 2011 with items as diverse as Robert Emmet’s Ring (1790s), an Intel microprocessor (1994) and gold Torcs from Tara (c. 1200BC).

A hard copy of the book is on sale priced at ~€25 but the Royal Irish Academy, the National Museum of Ireland, and The Irish Times have collaborated with the EU Presidency, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Adobe to offer a soft copy of the book for free until the end of March. It is available from the EU presidency website here:

Emigrant's Teapot

Emigrant’s Teapot

Number 82 of the objects is an Emigrant’s Teapot from the late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century. It is a tin teapot that was made by travelling people.  The tinsmith soldered a spout and the internal wall of the cup was punctured with holes to make a strainer. The descriptions says that “Preparing for the long sea voyage to America, and unwilling to do without the tea for which the Irish had acquired an insatiable thirst, emigrants would buy these specially-designed pots”.

There is an accompanying video that show a tinsmith making a round tin box.


100 Objects - App for Android phone

100 Objects – App for Android phone

Now for the technical glitches that I encountered with the free book: I have a Mac computer with Adobe Digital Editions installed so I downloaded the eBook version. It downloaded fine but would not open with Adobe DE and kept crashing every time I tried.

I also have an Android phone so I tried downloading the eBook version using it. No joy. It wouldn’t even download. I transferred the eBook from my computer to the phone but it wouldn’t open with any of my eBook readers.

However, the Kindle Fire link will let you install the book as an app on your Android phone if you have Amazon Appstore installed. I haven’t used Amazon Appstore before but it was straightforward to install and a quick search for “Ireland in 100 Objects” allowed me to download the book for free. Be warned though, the app is 500MB so wireless network is definitely recommended (instead of mobile network).

Remember that the offer of a free soft copy is only until the end of March from the EU Presidency website.