Tea has a long history behind it, having being drunk from as far back as 1000BC. We don’t know how or when it was discovered that dried leaves from the Camellia Sinensis plant could be put into boiling water, to create one of life’s great pleasures, however its origins have been traced to Southeast Asia.
Today, tea grows in tea gardens in many areas of the world. Tea plants are very picky about where they grow and the growing conditions have a huge influence on flavour. The plants need about 1,250mm of rain every year and a temperature of between 10 and 30 degrees centigrade. Some tea estates, in exposed places like Assam, have to plant other trees just to protect the tea plants from sun and strong winds. Tea plants need lots of care – needing pruning every four to five years to ensure they stay fresh and so that the ‘pluckers’ can reach the leaves.
Here in Ireland we take our Tea very seriously. In fact, we consume more tea per capita than any other country in the world. Tea was first introduced to Ireland in the early 1800s and back then it was classed as a luxury – confined to only upper class people of considerable wealth. Tea parties became a way in which wealthy people would socialise. However, it was not long before Tea became more popular and by the mid 1800’s every household in Ireland had a Tea Caddy.
The quality of tea we drink in Ireland is also the highest in the world. The difference between Irish & English tea can be explained, in part, by the Second World War. Before that, most of our tea was purchased in the UK, but when the War started, the British government limited the amount of tea Irish merchants could buy to almost nothing. The Irish government, no doubt fearful of a mass revolt in the event of tea shortages, set up a private limited company, Tea Importers (Eire) Ltd., in order to start importing tea directly from country of origin. During the “Emergency” tea shipments continued albeit with some difficulty. As a result of these measures, the Irish tea trade continued to develop independently and developed different characteristics from those of the U.K. trade. At that stage most of our tea came from India. However after the war, the Kenya Tea Development Authority emerged and the factories that were built east of the Rift Valley began producing high quality African tea. It was found that this tea brewed particularly well in Irish water and Robert Roberts along with other Irish companies introduced it as a key blend component.
Today the range of teas Irish people drink is bigger than ever before – including teas like Chinese Green, Oolong, Pu’erh and herbal infusions like rooibos, peppermint & camomile.