The Perfect Cup of Tea—A Lovely Irish Tradition

Growing up the granddaughter of an Irish immigrant, I will forever associate a hot cup of tea with feelings of security and comfort.  Tea at grandma’s house was a special ritual that accompanied every gathering of family and friends at her small but comfortable house. 

Her small kitchen table, tucked into a corner, covered with an bright patterned oil cloth tablecloth was the scene for many lively conversations.   Of course, always in the center was a small tray with a bowl of sugar, a jar of honey and a package of saltine crackers.  Once everyone was seated, the perfect pot of tea was added along with a small pitcher of fresh milk.  Everyone had a cup, adult and child alike and awaited the pouring of tea. 

No matter what the occasion, tea was present.  Somehow, I always knew that the pot of tea was important and my grandmother’s attention to the process emphasized how significant every step was.

I will share her “recipe” for a perfect pot of tea. 

The kettle is “put to boiling,” filled with cool tap water and left to whistle it’s lively tune.  Of course, the best way to boil water is in a kettle that sings.

Once the water is truly boiling, the lovely and special china pot is taken off the shelf and given a brief rinse with a bit of the boiling water.  Of course, the tea pot must be warmed before even beginning the process of brewing the tea.  (While the tea pot is being warmed and rinsed, the kettle is returned to the stove to keep the water boiling.)

After the pot has been warmed, several scoops of loose tea (NEVER tea bags), are placed in the tea pot and the boiling water is poured over the tea leaves.  The pot is covered with a “cozy.” (This was usually something crocheted and colorful that my grandma had made.) 

The tea is then allowed to steep.  Of course for those of us who prefer a weaker brew, tea is poured into our cups early on in the process.  The tea is filtered through a mesh strainer that fits over the mouth of the cup and catches most of the tea leaves.  Of course a few tea leaves always make their way into the cup but that is part of the magic. 

I always add a splash of milk–never cream–and two spoons of sugar.  I liked, and still like, my tea, “white” and sweet.

My grandmother, always drank her tea straight and, so it seemed to me, still boiling as she sipped it from the cup.  She liked it strong and very hot and never seemed to flinch no matter how hot it was.  I remember watching in awe as she took a sip from a cup that was steaming in the evening air and did not seem to notice. 

I always felt very grown up enjoying my tea and listening as the adults discussed things around the table.  Once the cups of tea were finished, it was time to read the leaves.  The cup was turned upside down on the saucer and turned three times.  After being righted, a message would in left in the leaves in the bottom of the cup. 

I remember listening in awe as my grandma told my fortune.  I was very lucky because it always seemed that I was going to have a wonderful life and enjoy many great adventures.

As a child, one of my favorite “pretend” activities was “tea party.”  I was lucky enough to have been given a beautiful treasure of a gift when I was a young child, a porcelain tea set with six perfectly sized cups.  I was in awe of the fragile tea pot decorated with delicate rose buds and only brought it out for the most special of tea parties. 

Usually, the tea party accompanied an afternoon of pretending and playing dress up in my mother’s old formal gowns where my friends and I enjoyed a game of “pretend” dancing at a ball, accompanied by our “babies” and finished off with formal tea served in my beautiful tea set.  I loved it and felt so special.  I still have my precious tea set today.Image

As a young adult, I was lucky enough to travel to Ireland with my grandmother the summer after she turned 83.  She was a very lively octogenarian and loved to travel and was a great sport.  The main purpose of our visit was to see relatives and friends in the “old country,”  so we spent many, many hours “visiting.”

I will never forget the hospitality of our Irish relatives and still treasure the wonderful memories of that special trip. 

One of the most significant memories I came away with was a new appreciation for the enjoyment of tea.

The British may claim that they originated the ritual of afternoon tea, but it is my opinion, that the Irish, or at least my relatives, have elevated it to a new level.

Their typical Irish day began with a hearty breakfast and a cup of tea. 

Midmorning tea was enjoyed while gathered around a table for a break from work, errands or chores, or even just to visit.

Naturally, lunch was accompanied by tea, if not during the meal, immediately after, to compliment the delicious pastries, cakes and pies that were always available in abundance for desert.

Mid-afternoon was broken by a break for tea….of course the pastries, cakes and pies were brought out again to make sure that no one would go away from the table hungry.

Depending upon how early we started the day, we might fit in a late afternoon tea as well.

Dinner was time for another delicious meal and tea was once again included.

After dinner tea might or might not have accompanied desert and sweets, but it could certainly last late into the evening.  Of course if we took a break after dinner, bedtime was the perfect time for a lovely cup of tea just before saying goodnight.

On a good day, we might have “tea” as many as 8 times.  Of course the only danger is that every time the kettle was put on, the Irish brought out a feast to accompany it.  I became seriously concerned about my waistline. 

All in all, enjoying the ritual of daily tea was one of the things I enjoyed most about my visit.  Sadly, I wish I could incorporate it into my busy American lifestyle but that just does not seem to be possible.  I still enjoy a cup of tea during the afternoon on a regular basis but now It is a mug of tea made from a tea bag brewed with hot water from a hot water dispenser.  Quick and easy but not quite as special as a true cup of Irish tea.

Of course what is really the most special aspect of the “tea” ritual?  Time.  Time spent with family and friends just being together.  

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