An island, Ireland is surrounded by water. Its interior boundaries are defined by its rivers. Its rain is legendary and transformative.
Much like the land and the air, the water in Ireland has defined the culture. It’s everywhere . . . . crashing in waves, rushing past, falling gently . . .and most notably, calling you home.
We all know it, that distinctive, urgent sound. . . the shrill whistle of the kettle. It’s the sound that starts a day, gathers friends, soothes nerves and warms your soul.
Tea is basic. It’s one of life’s greatest, and simplest of gifts. There are endless ways to do it wrong. And one way to do it right. It’s not hard. Don’t over think it. Enjoy it.
- Boil the water. Boil it. Fresh water, boiled. A rolling, screaming boil. It’s science. To make a pot of an Irish or English (black) breakfast tea, you need frigging boiling water. (Hot water @180 degrees makes lovely herbal teas. God bless them. Enjoy them. But don’t mistake them for a serious cup of tea.)
- Heat the pot. Swish a splash of the boiling water in the teapot. Swirl the water, and toss it. If you don’t pre-heat the pot, you’ll quickly draw down the temperature of the water when it’s poured over the tea. That diminishes the flavor of the tea and . . . waters it down (pun intended).
- Put the kettle back on to boil. For every second a kettle is off the heat, it drops one degree. Water boils at 212 F (100C). It matters. It must be coming off the boil when poured over the tea.
- While the kettle is boiling put a tea bag (we’ve evolved) or a spoon of loose tea in the pot (Barry’s Tea, if I get to pick). One per person, and one more for the pot.
- Pour the boiling water over the tea. Close the damn lid, and if you have a tea cozy handy, use it. Keep it hot, and still for 5 minutes.
It’s that simple. Fresh, boiling water. Pre heat the pot. Make tea. Wait. Enjoy.
Add milk or sugar, lemon or honey. Preferably not cream. But at the end of the day, drink it the way you like it. Just make it right. We can get into endless discussions about whether the milk should go in the cup first. If cream is ever an option. And if tea leaves can really tell your future. But that’s all for another day.
In Ireland, it all comes back to the cup of tea. It’s at the center of it all. Even the tea on the plane as you’re arriving in Ireland sets the tone. There’s a pot of tea on the beverage trolley. Properly made tea. The gold to amber color is distinctive. You can see it before you taste it and know that it’s right. And hot. Damn hot. There will be no bag in a cup with a string dangling off the side. No tepid water. Hot tea, from the urn on the beverage trolley in flight. A taste of what’s to come before you even land . . .
The nation is awash in tea.
Tea, in the small pot, in front of fire, in every pub and shop and house in the country. It starts the day, it defines the moment, it sets the tone, it fuels the soul.
A day in Dublin with my godmother goes something like this: tea in the house at breakfast, tea at the museum café with lunch, tea in the bar at the hotel mid afternoon, tea when we come home . . . and a quick cup before bed.
Tea even has a sound . . .something familiar to every café and bar. There’s a clatter to it that is distinctive. As the cup and saucer, jug of milk and sugar bowl and the pot itself come to the table, there’s an unloading of sorts.
The soft, solid sound as the cup meets the table and now gives the table purpose. The sound of the cups rattling as they are distributed ‘round the table. And the hinged lid of the pot coming down with a soft clang. The impossibly small spoons finding their resting spot on the saucers. Because it is a cup and saucer. Every time. Everywhere.
If the Irish air clears the head, the tea fuels the body.
It’s hot. It’s strong. It starts your day, engages your friends and connects you with relations you can’t quite remember.
It’s uniquely Irish. Not the drink itself, but the moment it creates. The feeling it evokes. The connections it brings. And I could use a cup now.