How a pot of tea leaves the skinny lattes cold
The tradition of afternoon tea is one to be enjoyed at any time of the day, writes Lucinda O'Sullivan
WHILE in recent years we have all been overwhelmed with skinny lattes, cappuccinos and mochas, the fact is that when we are tired and stressed, what we really want is a refreshing and reviving cup of tea!
Chinese legend has it that tea was discovered in 2737BC by Emperor Shen Nung. Tea is produced from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, an evergreen plant that grows mainly in tropical and subtropical climates under stringent conditions. Two principal varieties are used, the China plant (C sinensis sinensis) for most Chinese, Formosan and Japanese teas, and the Assam plant (C sinensis assamica) used in most Indian and other teas, but not Darjeeling.
There are at least six varieties of tea: white, yellow, green, oolong, black and pu-erh -- the most common being white, green, oolong and black. A tea's type is determined by the processing it undergoes, and most teas sold in the West are blends. Tea is very receptive to the addition of scented and flavoured variants, such as bergamot for Earl Grey tea, Chinese Jasmine tea and Indian spices in Masala Chai. Some cultures add liquid honey, lemon, or even whiskey!
Tea is good for your health. Research has found that people who drink tea have significantly less cognitive decline than non-tea drinkers. It is reputed to provide immunity against intestinal disorders, to prevent dental caries, to normalise blood pressure and help with the prevention of coronary heart diseases and diabetes by reducing blood glucose activity. Both green and black tea infusions contain a number of antioxidants, mainly catechins that have anti-carcinogenic, anti-mutagenic and anti-tumoric properties.
The tradition of afternoon tea was started in the 19th century by the Duchess of Bedford. In Arab cultures, tea is a focal point of social gatherings and in Morocco it is poured from a height to create a foam. In Japan, it is a very formal and serene affair.
Thomas Twining opened the first known tea room on the Strand in London in 1706, and it remains there to this day. J Lyons & Co was also famous for its chain of tea shops with their art deco decor. The Lyons Tea Rooms always had a bakery counter and table service was by uniformed waitresses known as 'Nippies'. After the war, the tea shops converted to cafeteria self service, finally closing in 1981. Food writer Nigella Lawson is a descendant of the Lyons Corner House family.
Our grannies had special tea sets and cake plates which were then put away when mugs came into daily use. Well, now is the time to take out those old tea sets -- tea served in pretty teapots is highly fashionable again. To whet your whistle and your appetite, here are a few tea rooms to try.
In Dublin, the Phoenix Park Tea Rooms, an original Victorian Tea Rooms, is situated beside Dublin Zoo on Chesterfield Avenue. With an outdoor seating area for lazy summer days, it does paninis as well as baked scones and jam, homemade desserts and cakes and Fairtrade tea. Joy of Cha in East Essex Street, Temple Bar, has a selection of more than 60 loose teas, plus a big selection of tea accessories, and a good selection of cakes and gourmet sandwiches.
In CHQ at the IFSC, the House of Tea has over 120 teas, accessories and crockery, which you can also buy online at www.houseoftea.ie. It serves light lunches as well as afternoon tea on a tiered stand with finger sandwiches, scones and homemade fairy cakes.
Not far away at the new Point Village Market at weekends, you will find Dairine Keogh's Clement and Pekoe stall with a wide range of interesting teas and incidentals -- also available on www.clementandpekoe.com
Langton's of John Street, Kilkenny, brought in London-based top interior designer David Collins to create the elegant blue and white old- world ambiance of its John Street Tea & Wine Rooms, along with all the pretty accoutrements of tiered cake stands and china. Eddie Langton buys his selection of 35 teas from the Tea Palace in London and there is no doubt that the Duchess of Bedford would feel at home here! Afternoon tea is €15 per head or €28 for two.
The Blueberry Tea Room off the Diamond in Donegal Town is a homely little gem for those who love good food and scrumptious pastries -- its Pavlova and chocolate and hazelnut tarts are to die for. Very friendly, it even has toys for the kids to play with.
In Sligo, just beside where WB Yeats is buried at Drumcliffe Church, Drumcliffe Tea House and Craft Shop is very popular for good wholesome food and mouth-watering cakes and desserts.
In Clare, The Burren Centre Tearooms is in a cute little cottage providing not only tea and pastries but excellent homely fare including traditional Irish stew. In Ballyvaughan, An Fear Gorta Tea & Garden Rooms in a historic stone building is perfect for a lovely afternoon's relaxation either indoors or in the conservatory or garden. You will find a lovely display of homemade cakes, scones, open sandwiches and so on and a range of speciality teas.
Also in Clare is the Burren Perfumery Tea Rooms at Carron, which is worth a trip for the drive alone and then to visit the Perfumery's herb garden. Owner Sadie Chowen sources produce from organic farmers' markets for her freshly baked organic scones, homemade coffee cake, honey from the Perfumery's own beehive, plus delicious quiches and local cheese platters.
In Galway, the Asian Tea House Restaurant, in addition to a full restaurant menu, has a selection of 24 speciality teas including the sweet aromatic Tieh Guan Yin which is one of the 10 most famous teas in China.
Behind the Pro Cathedral buildings in Galway is Sweetie Pies Tea Rooms & Cake Shop where, along with breakfast and lunch, it does leisurely afternoon teas, as well as cupcake wedding cakes.
Out in Oranmore is Claire's Tearooms with beautiful china and lovely cakes. There is also a Hat Room with hats by Galway designer Mary Rose.
Alissa and Michael O'Donoghue's Teach an Tae on Inisheer on the Aran Islands is traditionally Irish with a lovely family-friendly atmosphere. They serve their own organic soups, scones, soda bread, cakes and preserves, freshly made daily with their own eggs.
Inis Oirr native Michael met Alissa when she visited the island with her grandparents from America and they all had tea and porter cake and exchanged addresses.
Kylemore Abbey in Connemara also has a Tea Rooms serving fresh homemade apple pies, chocolate brownies and Bakewell Tart with Kylemore raspberry jam, among other goodies, and all with a view of the magnificent Diamond Hill.
In Killarney Miss Courtney's Tearooms was set up by Sandra Dunlea in a premises which has been in the female family line for four generations. It is awash with gorgeous china tea sets, teapots, and traditional tiered stands, glistening under pretty chandeliers. Sandra's grandfather was big into photography so there is a huge collection of vintage black and white photos of family and friends at parties and events.
Miss Katie's Tea Rooms in Blarney is an old-fashioned style tearooms serving freshly baked confectionery from the owner's bakery and it specialises in great cupcakes. Fine china and an open turf fire make this a cosy spot to steady your nerves after you've kissed the Blarney Stone.
Finally, Mary O'Leary's fantastic Cupan Tae in Kenmare is "an original Irish teashop" whose motto is "life is like a cup of tea, it's all in how you make it". How true that is.
Mary opened her tearoom just a year ago and really got it right. It's like being in your granny's parlour, with a mahogany sideboard counter groaning with gorgeous homemade cakes. There is even an upright piano, and you drink your tea from wonderful china tea sets -- all matching.