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HOME BLEND

by RACHEL LYSAGHT

Art by SUSANNA ANDREWS

       Dad grabs the ceramic blue teapot and carefully swishes it with hot water. “You’ve got to scald the pot—it’s the most important thing you can do. Keeps the tea hot.” He pours the water out and reaches the pot towards me. “Give it a feel.” It’s hot to the touch. The rest of the water in the kettle is slowly rumbling, its sound the low howl of the night breeze caressing window sills. He pours the remaining water in the pot and adds two tea bags, one for me and one for him. A pair of dainty cups and saucers decorated with pale yellow and dusty blue olive branches are already waiting for us on the table. He lets the tea steep for four minutes—the perfect amount of time so it’s not too weak and not too strong. “It’s a saying in Ireland when the tea is too strong that ‘you could trot a mouse across it,’” he chuckles. 
       I
let him make the cup for me. The tea is a warm pumpkin orange with notes of rusty mahogany. Dad smiles when he sees the color. I can feel the warmth of the steam dance from the cup to my face, and immediately it smells of dark wood, earthy and savory yet floral and sweet. A familiar duality that brings me back to the homes of my aunts and uncles in Ireland. I watch him pour a heaping spoonful of white sugar into my cup with a dash of milk, clouding into a pale tanbark shade, and we begin to drink.

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       You would never want to offend the Irishman by equating Irish Breakfast Tea to English Breakfast. Much like we prefer our whiskey, our tea is stronger and more bitter—which is why it is naturally enjoyed with milk, sugar, and an arrangement of scones, soda bread, or biscuits such as Hobnobs and Digestives. Personally, I’ve always preferred custard creams with my tea—a sweet vanilla custard sandwiched by two flaky crackers—although that’s not what traditionally accompanies a cup. And if you aren’t a fan of the classics, supermarkets commonly have entire aisles devoted to various assortments of biscuits. Having the right biscuit is almost as important as properly preparing the tea.
       Tea is served six times a day at least—one in the morning, one around 11 a.m., one after dinner (which is the name of the meal served early afternoon), one during midafternoon, one during teatime (the name of the meal that is equivalent to what we know as dinner), and tea before bed. That excludes the times it is served with guests. Tea is the first thing you’re offered when you walk into the home of an Irish person, and it is the last thing you’re offered after dessert. 
       Europe’s obsession with tea began with Bohe tea (an oolong tea)[1].  Bohe was not favorable in Asia, which made it accessible to the common people of Europe in the 1700s[2].  Tea became so popular in Ireland that Irish physicians started to become concerned with the effects of excessive tea drinking among the working class[3].  In the 1870s, economic decline in Ireland made it difficult for working classes to afford nutritious foods[4].  Most notably, mothers would drink grand amounts of tea as an appetite suppressant to quell hunger pains so that they could provide their husbands and children with the nutritious food that was difficult to afford[5].  By the 1890s, tea drinking was blamed for making Irish housewives “chronically dyspeptic,” and some Irish physicians even coined the terms “tea drunkards” and “tea mania,” which were conditions that resulted in symptoms of heart palpitations, cognitive difficulties, depression, and suicidal feelings[6].  Irish doctors associated tea with issues of morality and compared it to alcoholism[7].  But, of course, that didn’t stop anybody from drinking it. We loved it too much and still do. 

 

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       When I smell a cup of Barry’s Gold Blend, a favorite tea brand within my family, I smell the rich floral perfumes of my aunties. I smell the musky cologne of my uncles. I close my eyes and I feel the chill of the Irish air and the warmth of the fading sun. I hear the seagulls caw and the slow pitter-patter of the horse hooves against old Dublin cobblestone and the puffing and squeaking of the double-decker buses as they make their way throughout the city. I see the fluffy clouds painted across the richly blue sky. The flavor of the tea’s sweet and milky tannins is Aunt Mary’s laugh and the soft melodic strings of Uncle Mark’s guitar. It is the sound of my cousins singing Molly Malone in a Guinness-sponsored splendor. 

[1] Purcell, Clíona, “Tea: The Origins of Our National Drink,” Waterford Treasures The Blog, Waterford Treasures, May 26, 2020, https://waterfordtreasures.wixsite.com/wattreasuresblog/post/tea-the-origins-of-our-national-drink.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Miller, Ian,“Insanity, Poverty and Excessive Tea Drinking in Late-Victorian Belfast.” Epidemic Belfast, Ulster University, 2021, https://epidemic-belfast.com/the-insanity-of-malnutrition-poverty-and-tea-addiction/.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.

RACHEL LYSAGHT uprooted her life in the Bay Area, California, to attend CU Boulder after falling in love with the Rocky Mountains. Rachel studied Psychology as a sophomore at CU Boulder when she submitted this piece to Hindsight.

SUSANNA ANDREWS graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder. With ample experience creating digital and print campaigns, Susanna looked forward to starting her career in advertising.

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