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Irish Tea Customs


Considering this month is the well-known Irish patron saint holiday, St. Patrick’s Day, we thought a little information on Irish tea customs would be suitable for our first post of the month. A cup of tea in Gaelic is “cupan tae”, and tea is often pronounced something like “tay”.

Ireland is one of the top tea consuming per capita countries in the world, averaging around 5 cups of tea per person per day. Tea in Ireland has a rich history, as tea tends to do in most countries around the world. It has been consumed since the nineteenth century. During the introduction of tea to Ireland, the cost of tea was incredibly high. It was only the wealthy who could truly afford it, although the middle-class would indulge occasionally to entertain guests. Often, the quality of tea was poor, so they would add plenty of milk to improve the flavour, and would, therefore, strengthen the brew as to not be overpowered by the large amount of milk. By the beginning of the twentieth century, tea was widely accessible and consumed in basically every home. Typically, the tea types consumed in Ireland are Assam or Ceylon black teas, or a mix of the two.

Making a proper cuppa

The most important step in Irish tea customs is the actual brewing of the tea.
  • First, ‘scald’ the teapot. Pour in boiling water to get the teapot hot, swishing it around to remove any potential residue from the last pot.
  • Start with fresh cold water and bring to a boil. Don’t let it boil too long or it will ‘flatten’ the water.
  • Teabags are now widely used in Ireland, but traditionally loose tea was the first choice. Let’s assume you’re using loose tea (try our Irish Breakfast).
    • Measure out your desired amount of tea and add it to your teapot. Use approximately 1 tsp of tea per 8oz of water or more for a stronger brew.
    • Pour in boiling water and keep your teapot over low heat while the tea leaves infuse. How long you leave your teapot there is up to you, this varies from household-to-household. 5 minutes is generally the cap, as the tea will start to become bitter.
  • You’ve probably heard that tea in Ireland is brewed STRONG. This is widely accepted to be true, but it’s still a matter of personal preference! You will definitely find homes serving a milder cuppa that we might be more familiar with in North America.
  • Most of the time, milk is added, and some may add sugar. You won’t see slices of lemon, honey or other garnishments in a proper cup of Irish tea.
    • Sometimes, as much as 1/3 of the cup is milk, although you might not be able to tell because the brew is so strong.
  • Traditionally, milk was poured into the teacups first, to protect the china from cracking. Some say this was a practice of poorer citizens who had cheaper china, and therefore today distinguish an individual's socio-economic history based on which order milk is added to the cup.

When is tea served?

Tea is usually served multiple times through the day. Upon waking, mid-morning, afternoon tea, evening tea and possibly a late-night tea.

Traditional tea times are:
  • Elevensies at 11:00 am with scones,
  • Afternoon tea, between 3:00 – 5:00 pm with some sweets,
  • High tea at 6:00 pm with more substantial foods.

What do you serve with your Irish tea?

Scones, biscuits and light sandwiches are typical, or just a slice of bread with some butter.

Fun facts:

  • Irish pubs are legally required to serve tea
  • It is a serious offence to make tea for yourself and not offer it to others in the household.
  • It is also a faux pas to have guests and not immediately offer them tea.
  • When offered a cup of tea in Ireland it is customary to first decline and to await the second offering of refreshment
    • Some suppose this stems from the time of the famine. To be polite, the host would offer tea, but the guest would understand there were no refreshments, so would politely decline. If the host offered a second time, the guest would understand that the host did, in fact, have refreshments to offer.

Irish Tea for your business

Are you a business owner looking to get into the Irish spirit for St. Patrick’s Day? Tea is an inexpensive way to draw in your customers or new customers. We suggest hosting an elevensies or afternoon tea with Irish fixings, like soda bread, potato scones, barmbrack, or several other Irish dishes. Contact for ideas and help to get your Irish tea theme going!