AH! There’s nothing quite like that first sip of a refreshing cup of tea.
This beige, warm, milky drink has become the panacea for all things, whether that’s settling down for a natter with friends, as a tonic for shock, something to warm you from the inside out, to get the engines going or a post-dinner digestif.
It seems we can always find an excuse for sticking on the kettle and having a cuppa.
Of course, Cork’s connection to tea goes back centuries. As a port town, trade in goods and commodities from far-flung places inevitably brought with it tea from exotic lands. China and Sri Lanka, India and Africa — all great tea- growing nations, which found their way into the local culture and settled in well.
Barry’s Tea is the tea of Cork! It was founded as a family business in 1901 by James Barry and operated from a premises on Princes Street, now an opticians, and, in 1934, Anthony Barry was recognised for his skill in tea blending. Over time, the selection of teas they sourced, their freshness and quality improved, and as they did so, they began diversifying into wholesale, gradually growing into the national treasure it is today.
Over the past few years or so, Cork, along with the rest of the country, has acquired a taste and fascination with coffee. We are fortunate to have an incredible array of independent coffee shops and high quality craft roasteries across the city and county, and we are talking the language of coffee with more technical knowledge than we ever talked about the humble cup of tea.
Many of us have even managed to unpick the mysteries of what a flat white really is!
But coffee aficionados beware, for there is a new wave of craft beverages approaching… Loose leaf tea is doing for tea what craft roasteries did for instant coffee. Forget tea bags and their bad news story about micro plastics, loose leaf tea is all about origin, blends, herbs, spices and reinvigorating the ethereal ceremony around tea-making as a counterpoint to the technical, nerdy science of coffee brewing.
You might be surprised at how many purveyors of loose leaf tea there are across our great, tea-slurping county. It might be too early to put coffee on high alert of an usurper in the midst, but no-one drinks coffee with their Afternoon Tea, do they? I mean, that would be sacrilege…
Mahers, Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork City
Mahers is to coffee what Barry’s is to tea!
Established since 1991, it also sources loose leaf teas to complement it coffee business.
A diminutive range of excellent teas are available — main teas most familiar to their customers, such as Darjeeling, Assam, Earl Grey and Jasmine.
There are also some intriguing blends and flavoured teas, such as the Cream of Ireland tea, flavoured with an Irish whiskey cream.
Loose Leaf Tea and Coffee, 4 Fenns Quay, Sheare’s Street, Cork City
Walk into this wonderful shop, housed in a building dating back to the 1750s, and you are transported back to a time when drinking tea was about sophistication and education.
At Loose Leaf, there are a wide variety of loose leaf teas for sale from Japan, Sri Lanka, China, India, Africa and beyond. Teas are vibrant, with hues of green, black, white and red. And while quality is key here, purity is too with their range of oolong, pu-reh and matcha.
As well as a focus on origin, there are also a variety of blends available to invigorate or calm.
What’s more, you can learn about all of this whilst sipping on a cup of tea and being expertly guided to the blend that is right for you.
Regular workshops also take place, from learning about origins and blends, to brewing and the ceremony of tea making and drinking.
Three Spoons, Market Parade, Patrick Street, Cork
Tucked away down Market Parade, the narrow slip of a walkway connecting The English Market to Patrick Street, is Three Spoons.
Stocking over 100 varieties of both loose leaf tea and coffee, they pride themselves on an innate knowledge of the origins of their tea, down to the individual plantations and the processes for rolling, smoking and drying the leaves to create the best possible flavour and quality.
Teas are sourced from China, Rwanda, Japan, India, Sri Lanka and Argentina.
Each country, plantation and drying method creates a special taste of place, or terroir, differentiating teas of outstanding quality to lesser teas. A beautiful selection of tea sets, rare world teas and Ayurvedic wellness teas can also be found here.
Peppermint Farm, Bantry, West Cork
Peppermint Farm is an organic herb farm growing more than 300 different varieties of herbs. These are blended with imported, organically-grown teas from the great tea- growing nations of the world to create wonderfully diverse range of loose leaf teas and plastic-free tea bags.
Teas are divided into either infusions or decoctions. Infusions are teas made from leaves, petals and flowers. Infusion allows the oils in the herb to be released gently.
Decoction is for teas made from roots, seeds and barks whose active ingredients are more difficult to release.
All the packaging, including the tea bags, are plastic-free and made from compostable materials.
Teas come with gloriously ethereal names such as ‘Splendid Woman’s Tea’ and ‘Oh Too Early To Wake Up’ tea. Both are my cup of tea, for sure!
Remedy Roots, Cork
Remedy Roots are Lisa, from Cork, and Stuart, from Birmingham. The range of blended teas come from Lisa’s imagination, a love for herbs and natural remedies, and an aspiration to create a community around a common interest in natural health.
Their teas are a mixture of powdered teas, (Chai Latte, delicious made with soy milk; Turmeric Latte, great with coconut milk, and Matcha), and loose leaf teas blended with herbs and spices.
Dandelion for digestion, Berry Resistance to boost immunity, Refreshing Glow with rose petals and Gentle Slumber with camomile for a pre-bed time soother.
Exploding Tree – Cocoa Husk Tea, Assumption Place, Clonakilty, West Cork
Allison Roberts, a Toronto native with a lifelong passion for all things cocoa, hand makes her bean- to-bar Fairtrade chocolate from what is probably the smallest chocolate factory in Europe! A commitment to small business and sustainability means that every part of the chocolate making process is done by hand.
Allison collects the husks of the cocoa beans, sorts and grades them. The best of the husks (the papery outer skin of the cocoa bean), is bagged and sold as Cocoa Husk tea.
Cocoa Husk tea contains the same ingredients as the nib of the bean: 60% chocolate and 40% cocoa butter, a heart healthy butter great for the stomach and cardiovascular system. It is also rich in minerals such as Vitamin E, Magnesium, Copper and Iron. It is also a massive six-times higher in antioxidants than Green Tea, and tastes great!
Nature Rebel, Caheragh, Skibbereen, West Cork
April Danann is a herbalist, and has been blending her own caffeine-free herbal teas and coffees for decades!
Her ‘Shroom and Dandelion Root caffeine free coffees taste miraculously like actual coffee; and her herbal tea blends contain some intriguing ingredients such as Activated Charcoal, Flowers of Sulphur, Sheeps Sorrel Herb and Sun Shine Tea with mint, lavender and lemongrass.
Being a qualified medical herbalist, April can suggest herbal tea blends that can help to support your body and mind with what you need when you need it most.
So what’s next? Growing ‘Real Tea’ in Ireland, of course! Here are two businesses doing just that.
Two Green Shoots, Glengarriff, West Cork
Changes in our climate are forcing us to look closely at what we grow. As temperatures rise and fall, as our climate becomes wetter and warmer, it is becoming imperative that we understand what crops are adaptable and resilient, but also it provides an opportunity to innovate, and discover new crops that are perfectly adaptive to our new, changing climate. Two such growers are doing just that by cultivating tea plantations.
Two Green Shoots in Glengarriff have just started their plantation, part of their ongoing Garden of Re-Imagination edible garden project.
The Green Apron, Derryclough, West Limerick
Theresa Storey of The Green Apron is much more advanced in her project.
A botanist and plant scientist by academia, as well as a well-known, award-winning, producer of jams and blended teas in the Limerick area, U.S-born Theresa has managed to cultivate a large plantation of Camelia sinensis (real tea, as she refers to it) on her family’s land in Derryclough, West Limerick.
The plants are well established now, and in 2018 their second tea, Brew No.2, using their home-grown green tea mixed with mint was a finalist at Blas Na hEireann in 2018.
I don’t know about you, but I’m very excited about the prospect of Leaf to Cup Irish-grown Tea. Of course, good things come to those who wait, so until then, let’s pop the kettle on…