Fancy a Cuppa?

Has the tea revolution begun? From anecdotal evidence, it is a slow boil. The last two decades has seen the exponential growth of coffee shops, roasteries, cafes, coffee culture. Across the globe, more than two billion cups of coffee are drunk every day. Dublin is the ‘second most “coffee crazy” capital city in the world, with 180 coffee shops per 100,000 people, and imports of €94.94 per person per year. Popularised by such coffee haunts as ‘Central Perk’ in the hit series Friends, cafes have become the go to social venue for friends, family, and workmates. The ubiquitous phrase ‘meet you for a coffee’ may well be repeated thousands of times a day in Irish life.

Where does this leave our national brew?  We apparently consume more tea per capita than any other country in the world, apart from Turkey. A decade ago, excitement over specialist teas gave rise to Tea Rooms and specialist Tea companies. Can it be that we Irish stay at home for tea and go out for coffee? Not being a coffee drinker can be a disadvantage when friends are discussing the merits of one americano over another, and purposely ignore a perfectly fine café for the one down the street and around the corner where ‘the coffee is awesome’. Cafes and coffee shops alike will confirm that their coffee sales outstrip tea sales by some margin. A recent advertising campaign featured several builders stopping for a break. One of them came back to the truck with the coffee order. One poor chap had ordered tea and bore the brunt of his mates’ derision. The distinct message in this advert was that drinking tea was no longer cool! The term ‘builders tea’ is widely used when referring to a properly strong cup of black tea. Seems that our builders have now embraced coffee culture and the tea break on sites has morphed into the coffee break.

Black tea lends itself to being paired with any number of foods, both sweet and savoury, and we Irish are known for pairing it with foodstuffs from bread and jam to a full Irish. However, to enjoy a tea of delicate flavour, an education in tea pairings is necessary. Trying to enjoy a cup of White Tea with a strongly flavoured fry up is unlikely to reveal the subtleties of said tea. Matching a cup of Early Grey with lashings of milk and a lamb chop will not do this delicate tea justice.

Can it be that we are now in need of the same education regarding the myriad range of teas as coffee. Although there are specialist teashops across the country and the tea conversation had a significant moment about a decade ago, they are nowhere near as ubiquitous as cafes and coffee shops. Every village and town have at least one and usually multiple cafes where competition to sell the best coffee (and thus  gain the most customers) can be fierce.  The same conversations are not usual regarding tea. It is a rare café indeed where tea leaves are served. In fact, younger staff are often not even familiar with black tea leaves. Most cafes will stock the obligatory Camomile, Mint, Green and Berry served in bags of varying degrees of questionable quality.

Word on the ground is that a quiet revolution is stirring in the world of tea. It is rumoured that tea will take on the same significance as coffee and specialist tea companies are scouring the world for superior quality. One such company The Rare Tea Company has been working directly with loose leaf tea farmers since 2004 and prides itself on its sustainability. The Joy of Cha was established in Dublin in 2006 and sells both tea and coffee as do most of the specialist tea shops.

Will there come a time when during the office ‘coffee break’, the chat in the queue at the neighbourhood café will be around Oolong, Earl Grey, Yerba Mate, Pu-erh, rather than the merits of the americano or the signature blend? Black tea that we all know and love so much that we consume it in vast quantities still accounts for 85% of the total tea consumption in the western world.

As with any revolution, it begins slowly and then becomes an unstoppable force. Watch out, it seems that tea is in the nascent stages of revolution. Time will tell.