Thursday, March 17, 2016

St. Patrick's Day Cupan Tae

Happy St. Patrick's Day! 

In honour of today's holiday I thought I'd share a little Irish tea history. As with England, Ireland only began importing tea in the 1800s and it was prohibitively expensive, thus it was a beverage for the upper classes only. As the century progressed, tea spread to the rural parts of Ireland and everyday people began to enjoy the beverage. However, the quality of tea was so poor that in order to make it palatable Irish tea drinkers would fill their cups almost 1/3 of the way with milk before adding the tea. In addition, the tea was steeped for long periods of time to make it as strong as possible, again due to poor quality. Oftentimes the tea would be steeped on the stove, and would remain there so visitors could join in a "cupan tae" (Gaelic for "cup of tea") whenever they'd pop in. Originally the tea was poured into cups first, then transferred to the fine China teacups so that the delicate cups wouldn't break from the hot liquid. It was later discovered that putting milk into hot tea after it is poured alters the flavor of the tea. Most Irish tea drinkers still prepare their beverage in this manner.

Up until WWII Ireland imported most of its tea from England. After the war, however, Ireland refused to allow Britain to use its western ports and its tea ration was drastically cut. After the war, with the help of new laws, instead of getting its tea from English auction houses, Ireland began importing its own tea right from the source. At first the Assam tea, the primary tea in Irish Breakfast tea, was favored, but teas from India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya soon joined the ranks of high quality teas. Now, Irish breakfast tea favors teas from East Africa.

On this St. Patrick's Day I hope you enjoy a good cupan tae!


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