Taking Tea: What I Learned About Irish Culture and Customs

Taking Tea: What I Learned About Irish Culture and Customs

The Irish take their tea very seriously. They are one of the world’s largest tea consumers, with the average person consuming 5-6 cups a day.  That’s on average.  That is a LOT of tea.

Tea is Tea

One of the first things you notice upon arrival in Ireland is that there aren’t many options.

In the US, whenever I order a tea, I’m presented with a big box of options.  Green. Jasmine. Black. Chamomile. White. Pu-ehr. Matcha. Earl Grey. Irish Breakfast. Milk? Cream? Lemon? Sugar? Honey?

In Ireland, when you order tea, there is only one option.  Tea. If I’m being completely honest, there are really two options for tea – Barry’s or Lyon’s. But both are “tea.”  The Irish pick their favorite brand and stick to it for life.  Similar to having a favorite football team, or the famous Coke vs Pepsi debate.

When one orders the tea, they do not specify the brand.  They order tea, and when they receive it, they either secretly enjoy it or secretly judge you for serving the wrong brand.

There is also no specifying how you will be taking the tea.  It’s always served with milk and sugar. Most places put these on the side, but it’s not uncommon to be served a cup of tea with milk and sugar already mixed in.

The Irish drink ALOT of tea

Tea is a major part of Irish culture.  It’s the perfect example to demonstrate Irish hospitality and warmth. It’s a major faux pas to make yourself a cup of tea and not offer some to everyone in your vicinity.

When you visit a home, the first thing you are offered is a cup of tea. When you’re having a bad day, you make a nice cup of tea to soothe yourself.  Having a great day?  Pour a cup of tea with friends to celebrate!

Remember how I said I the average person drink 5-6 cups of tea a day?   It’s true!

Here’s a general schedule:

8am – Breakfast tea
11am – “Elevensies” – served with scones, cream & jam
3-4pm – Afternoon tea – served with biscuits and shortbread
6pm – High tea, also referred to Supper tea – served with meat, cheese, bread, sandwiches, fruit, and sweets.
8pm – Evening tea – served by itself.

Other Interesting things

Which comes first, the milk or the tea? This was something interesting – apparently, how you take your tea tells a lot about your socioeconomic background. Rumor has it, back in the day, the poorer area of Ireland had lower quality china.  To prevent these cups from cracking from the hot liquid, they first poured cool milk into their cups so they could temper them before adding in the tea.

Iced tea doesn’t exist. No really, it doesn’t. The quickest way to out yourself as an American is to ask for a glass of iced tea.  You’ll get an odd look, followed by “I’ve heard of that and it sounds lovely, but we don’t have that here.” I had a server tell me that it always made her laugh when an American asked for a “hot” cup of tea. “Of course it’s served hot, do they think it might be accidentally served lukewarm? It won’t steep if it’s not hot!”

In conclusion

When in Ireland, be prepared to drink a lot of tea. And remember, the proper way to order a cup is “I’d love a cup of tea. Thank you!”


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4 thoughts on “Taking Tea: What I Learned About Irish Culture and Customs”

  • When we visited Azerbaijan last fall we discovered that they love drinking tea after every meal and there weren’t any options, just tea. But it was so good! We actually bought a tea set while we were there and after returning home kept drinking tea after meals for awhile but it has since died out again. Now I may need to go home and have a cup tonight!

    • Omg – that sounds amazing! I’ve never been there…India is similar. If you go up to a “chaiwallah” or tea vendor, it’s pretty much just “chai.” The nicer restaurants that cater to westerners will often have another option, but it’s certainly not common.

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