Gracious Tradition

What has powers to aid digestion, cure a headache and provide a gentle pick-me-up?

Tea drinking is one of the longest and most loved rituals in some old countries. 

In any home in Ireland and England, the cheery bubble of the kettle sounds in the background as you greet your friends and family. It is a comforting tradition.  It can be as simple as a slap-up tea in an old kitchen, by the fireside; or the ‘taking of tea’ which is served with the panoply of fine silver and starched linen. 

I love the suspended state of revelry tea time causes, and I’ve tried my best to introduce it to every place of employment I’ve been blessed to be hired by within the US, (whether they wanted it or not). I’ve had it at my home with many friends, and their families in Woodbury.  In this past year…I’ve introduced it to Puerto Rico.

The best part is spending an hour or two talking and reflecting on all the delights that are to be found around a hot pot with a warm friend(s)..


I perked up when I found out that January is National Hot Tea month in the USA.  Tea is drunk all year round where I am from.  During the cold days of winter in MN, I think taking a hot cup of tea for 5 minutes or for 120 minutes is an event, & it might be a way to lift the spirits.  On occasions I’ve noticed at the Washington County Library, Central Park, a beautiful display of tea pots and tea paraphernalia in one of the glass cabinets inside the premises.  I was told that one of the library employees owns the tea items and is kind enough to display them for inspiration. 

  Teatime is probably under threat in many places from coffee bars and the hurry-up lifestyle that wants a quick cuppa.  But, when I have the time, I take pleasure in doing it properly.  There is a ritual to a proper teatime. Strong tea may not have the same amount of caffeine as a strong cup of coffee, but slightly more than a can of cola. Just the right amount and it is good for you as an antioxidant.


Elevenses is served like the name suggests (at 11 o’clock).  It’s served with scones, tea and biscuits (cookies).  This is supposed to hold you over until lunch.

Afternoon Tea (between 3 and 5pm) custom features a wonderful selection of light and delicious food, with warm scones, homemade jams, & clotted cream dominating the spread. 

High Tea (6pm) Many think of high tea as formal & fancy, but it’s actually a working people’s tea that serves as a meal. High Tea is fairly substantial, consisting of dishes that could be cooked slowly all day.

Just before bed comes tea, toast and lumps of cheese. All meals are accompanied with pots of steaming hot tea.


At first, tea was the drink for the rich, since the leaves were not cheap (one reason for all the rather expensive tea accessories –silver teapots, candy spoons, sugar tongs, and so on).  In the mid-nineteenth century, tea was planted in India and later Ceylon (Sri Lanka).  Tea, by now, was cheaper and more available to everyone, replacing home-brewed ale as a drink of choice. 

Today, many Irish people drink more than 6 cups per day! The average is 4 cups a day – If you are Irish you probably even have a mug of tea in your hand as you're reading this!  Ireland is the largest tea consumer per capita than any country in the world. 

 Turkey, India, UK, Kuwait and New Zealand also rank high in tea drinking.  The US ranks 69th.  You won’t find an Irish convention, the Irish Airline (Aer Lingus), an Irish work meeting, or any other event that does not allow for an afternoon tea break on the schedule!  Rich and poor alike love tea-time.  We will even drink a cup of tea before drinking the porter stuff; we might find ourselves having a cup of tea before bed after the pub crawl.

The Irish palate for tea is unrivalled – we have a reputation for being very fuzzy in a nice way about selecting the tea, & how it is brewed. We judge others on their tea making abilities. 

If it isn’t done correct, we sport a lopsided grin/grimace.  It’s been said that if you can make a proper cup of tea there is an emotional connection which in turn increases fondness and trust, thus enabling the relationship to grow and develop?  My husband sports a lopsided grin now at that crazy statement??  But, what does that Yank know!!?? (He actually drinks more Irish Tea than I).


Irish Teas are blends of Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan leaves.  Those teas have the characteristics of freshness & brightness in color (I like golden colored teas) and familiar, unique taste.  English teas are excellent too and are very similar to Irish teas. We use fresh water, that hasn’t boiled too long. We then add sugar and whole milk to our teacup, to round out the flavor - always.

The Chinese have used tea for thousands of years. An early reference to tea drinking dates back to 2737 BC when Emperor Shen Nung sat under a tree and set about boiling some water to quench his thirst. A leaf from the Camellia Sinensis plant fell into the boiling water and gave him his first cup of tea! Thank you Nung!  What a happy accident!


Britain received the first teas from China about 300 years ago and found their way into Irish hearts and homes through imports from British colonies. But today, hardly any of the tea we drink comes from China. The main countries supplying the daily cup of tea are now Africa, India and Sri Lanka. Tea is an agricultural crop and, just like wine, is subject to variations from tea garden to tea garden because of soil altitude, climate, harvesting and processing. There are approximately 3,000 different tea gardens worldwide.

1750’S COMMENTATIOR (with his knickers in a knot) WROTE WHEN TALKING ABOUT TEA, “When Will This Evil Stop?”

I read some tea history (or idle gossip) recently…Back in Ireland about 100 years ago, tea was once called an uncontrollable drug that destroys families and stifles the economy. 

The British ruling classes fretted over the prospect of Irish working class women making cups of tea for themselves.  It was stifling national economic growth, because housewives were wasting their time taking a tea break. Country women were condemned for putting their feet up with a cup of tea when they should be getting a hearty evening meal ready for their hard-working husbands!

The ninny-goats, called ‘reformers’ saw tea drinking as reckless and uncontrollable.   They clearly saw tea drinking as a luxury that wasn't for the poorer classes.  Especially not the Irish!   There were supposedly drug-like qualities in tea, an exotic substance from China, which was understood to become addictive over time. Well… you can image how we listened to that advice.


We are of the belief that Tea covers all ails –sympathy, encouragement, a little chat, family crises, headaches, bereavement or celebration.  Tea contains high levels of antioxidants, some of which are called polyphenols, flavonoids, and catechins, and all of which take on the “free radicals” in the body and prevent them from harming the healthy cells on board.  Some researchers will say that tea does its best to protect you from heart disease, a stroke, cancer, and more.

What would we do without it?   The Irish, Welsh and Scottish people are said to be fey, (slightly insane) which means ‘closer to the other side’. Not only is tea drinking healthy, it is tasty and when you have drunk your cup of tea, it also has entertainment quality – the reading of the leaves (thus the razor’s edge between keen insight and insanity). 

Those with green saucer eyes can carry on this custom of reading the leaves.  You’ll find out there is a mystical sparkle to them as their intense gaze skims your soul.  But, some say we are more like a screaming banshee after too much tea – fast, wild, and free…lest that’s what my Yank says!!!


Many is the time when all seemed lost; a cup of Irish tea restores one to a more amicable person.  But, don’t be nonchalant about tea…

If you are in an Irish home as a guest, you must know that resistance to drinking tea is futile – even if your bladder gives out from drinking it.  The man or lady of the house will keep saying… “Ah go on, go on, go on, of course you’ll have “cupan tae”. (Gaelic for cup of tea).  Tea tasting/drinking is as skilled a profession as wine tasting, so even if you have to pretend, please go on, and on, and go on about how good the tea is.  Like wine, tea has its own language! Here is a few terms, Brisk, Pungent, Grey, Even, Bright, Body…

You’ll know if you’re not in good favor… your tea is made extra dark and strong with no milk or sugar. The way Catholic ladies gave it to the Brits when they first came to the North of Ireland, in the hope it would poison them. However, the British liked it so much, they stayed. 


There are countless reasons how and why this occasion of the ‘taking of tea’ has stayed with so many for so long.  I do hope that more Minnesota Scandies will find time to make an unhurried tea, built on ceremony. Let the cares of the world drift away and let tea be a beverage, a medicine, and a social ritual...

And, excuse me now, while I imagine the wood burning stove blazin’ away on a cold January morn’ while my kittle whistles away and the tea warms me bones.

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jann van pelt January 20, 2013 at 03:39 PM
This was such a joy to read. I used to go to teas with my Mom and sister. I also served tea one day to them that lasted 5 hours. I miss it now as my Mom is in a nursing home and my sister moved out of state. Thank you for this cute little article of facts and remembrance.
Margaret Wachholz January 21, 2013 at 11:04 PM
You illustrated how tea is far more than something that quenches the thirst. Thank you Jann for writing and so glad the article brought back happy memories with your sister and mom. Ha! 5 hour tea - sometimes that's how wonderful it can go - it forces you happily to be lost in the moment (or hours in your case). Very nice!
Amy Goebel April 18, 2013 at 02:17 AM
Catching up on your blogs this evening, listening to the freezing rain and snow outside, and remembering a couple of nice cups of tea shared with you Margaret! And now, off to make a cup...
Margaret Wachholz April 22, 2013 at 10:50 PM
Amy, it seems like you'll be needin' the piping hot tea for sure up there - 6 months of ski weather. Good night Irene to that, as they say! I'm sure you're anxious to get out in the yard to tend to your gardening business. I hope professional gardeners will be able to have 'their' season too. On one of those busy days, meet me in my yard and I'll have a cuppa ready for you and family (as soon as the daunting task of packing up is done here again). We shall see ye soon! Bye Amy & thank you. Margaret


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