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Irish Tea Culture-
Warming Hands and Hearts

By Anna Snyder

The Irish tea culture is an important Irish custom. In fact, drinking tea is as important here if not more important than the Irish drinking culture. Tea is enjoyed in even greater volume than alcohol between family and friends- at all hours. 

Cup of tea, Ireland.

A late night 'cuppa', cup of tea number seven at the end of a long day. Nothing better for comfort.

In fact, the Irish are the heaviest tea drinkers per capita in the world, averaging four to six cups per day with many people drinking even more. 

Should you be invited into an Irish household, you can be sure that as soon as you cross the threshold you’ll be offered tea as an icebreaker. And once you’ve finished that cup, you will be offered more tea, and so on.

The History Of Irish Tea

Considered by many a necessity to keep tempers pleasant in a country that’s cold and rainy for most of the year, the Irish tea culture dates back to the 1800s. 

Imported from English merchants, Irish tea was generally of cheaper quality so they added milk, sometimes as much as 1/3 of the cup, to cover up the taste.  This, of course, meant that Irish tea had to be brewed stronger than its English counterpart, a custom which still endures. 

In the 1960s Ireland’s tea companies finally cut out the middleman and started buying their tea straight from the source.  Assam tea from India, a very strong, robust tea with a high tannin level, was blended with the lighter-tasting Ceylon from Sri Lanka, giving us the invigorating tea that the rest of the world now knows as Irish Breakfast.

The Etiquette Around Tea In Ireland

Not surprisingly, there is a definite etiquette surrounding tea-drinking in Ireland. 

Ideally the tea is brewed in a teapot, which must be scalded beforehand by swirling hot water around in it and emptied, though making tea in separate mugs is more common. 

You must seep the teabags—typically one per cup of tea—in water that has only just been brought to the boil.  Of course the very thought of drinking tea black is heresy.  A large drop of fresh and good quality milk is essential in producing the typical Irish cup of tea. Sometimes as much as a third of the cup is filled with milk, depending on the tea drinkers’  colour preference.


As a newcomer to Ireland, I remember being stunned by the strong, almost floral scent of the tea my hotel provided with breakfast.  With two spoonfuls of sugar and fresh milk stirred in, it was practically a complete dessert in itself. Some tea fanatics though will turn up their noses at spoiling the flavor of the tea by adding sugar.

As I became more familiar with the culture, I began to understand some of the cultural rules surrounding Irish tea:

  • Having tea in a household—usually either Lyons or Barry’s—is a top priority.  The household must never run out of either tea bags or toilet paper. Running out of tea would cause a minor crisis.
  • It is a grave faux pas to make yourself a cup of tea without offering to make tea for everyone else in the vicinity.  Before I learned this, I had a habit of waking up early and having tea by myself while my housemates slept in.  Once they discovered the empty mugs in my room, they responded with outrage at my betraying them by having “secret tea”.  
  • And of course, to invite someone into your house and not immediately offer them tea is grounds for a feud.  Offering the visitor a cup of tea is the backbone of Irish hospitality.
  • Not only is tea a great way to cheer up and keep warm on a rainy day, but it is also a social ritual that takes away the initial awkwardness of those first few minutes of a conversation; it gives both the host and the guest something to do, whether pouring and serving or occupying their hands by holding the mug, as they settle in and get comfortable.  

Irish tea, far more than just a hot drink to go with your Hobnob biscuits, is an important Irish custom that serves as a symbol of hospitality, camaraderie, and friendship.  Not only is it a great way to cheer up and keep warm on a rainy day, but it brings people together as well.

Anna Snyder is a freelance writer who studied creative writing at NUI, Galway. She used to work in Moscow as an English teacher. She enjoys knitting and travelling when she has the time and she blogs.

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