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I heard a statistic while in Ireland, that the Irish drink more tea per capita than any other country in Europe. I believe it, and I like it.
I come from Seattle, the caffeine capital of the U.S. It is the place where Starbucks was born, spawned from a culture of rainy, gloomy skies, thick arches of stoic forests, conditions that tuck people indoors, out of the wet cold, and around café tables. We love our coffee there - we love roasting it, we love the smell, we love the flavor.
Ireland has a similar marine climate, similar conditions of green and wetness.
Over the course of our trip to Ireland, we stopped periodically, here and there, for tea for two. I have to limit my caffeine intake because it makes my heart beat too fast, but I can sip it from time to time. Barry's Tea is the most popular tea in Ireland, and we sipped many a pot of this golden blend. I like mine with raw sugar and a touch of milk. My travel companion drinks his plain. It was always served with two bags of tea inside a metal teapot, steeped for 3-5 minutes, and then teabags removed. Tea was poured into porcelain cups, set to cool, and then sipped.
The best tea for two in Ireland, is as follows:
At The Old Ground Hotel in Ennis, County Clare. We sat in lumpy old couches, under chandeliers, in a musty-smelling room, with the rain pattering outside. We sipped tea for two. For an old experience, I liked this hotel.
At The Dunraven Arms Hotel, in Adare, County Limerick. We sat in the posh bar area, in front of a wall of windows that illuminated the room with natural light, with the rain pouring outside, sipping out of two cups. For a modern experience, I liked it here.
At The Burren Perfumery in Carron, County Clare. We had tea in the garden, beneath the sun. An organic, cleansing, herbal tea, made locally, steeped in a china teapot. For a natural experience, this is my pick.
I brought some tea back with me. A loose, bulk Irish Breakfast tea purchased at Loop de Loop organic emporium in Castletownbere. Now, in New York City, finishing all my writing, in an apartment with towers of books and two cats stalking the spaces in between, I boil the water, measure out the tea, and steep it in a pink teapot, dusted off from the cupboard. New York is quite a coffee town - this entire city is wound up on caffeine. I sip the Irish Breakfast in the morning, enjoying the ritual I've taken with me; it is the best souvenir.
Written by Liz O'Malley - Summer of Travel 2007