The health properties of tea have long been advertised.
“It maketh the body active and lusty” a 1660 promotion suggested. However, before you dunk your teabag into a mug of steaming water, spare a thought for the environment. Some of them have polypropylene to help to seal them and it doesn’t decompose.
Loose tea is a simple alternative. If enough tea leaves could be grown, as Theresa Storey of Green Apron in Limerick has shown, we would really be able to support local.
She is unlikely to be able to meet national demand, but she has made a brave and interesting start.
For those who enjoy the subtleties of life, tea has much pleasure and amusement to offer, without breaking the bank. For this survey, we looked at breakfast-style black tea — a refreshing cup which delivers a morning boost. Black tea has 60mg to 90mg per 225g cup of caffeine (coffee usually has double) and has plenty of healthy antioxidants too.
Many now drink tea weak, without milk. Milk changes the flavour, so we blind-tested several times, black and with milk, varying quantities too.
All those we tested specified it should be made with freshly boiled water (boiling reduces oxygen), allowing 1-2 teaspoons per person in a pot (a cafetière works perfectly) for three minutes for the tea to infuse. (Some blenders cut the leaves for quicker infusion.)
There are lots of filters, strainers and baskets available to make in a cup.
Whittard 01 English Breakfast 140g €15
Tops with all tasters, it had a bright golden colour and bright flavour too. While the taste was of traditional tea, it was also elegant. Very good without milk, use a heaped teaspoon per per person with milk.
In a pretty, floral-patterned, well-sealed caddy, while expensive, it has a double seal and can be re-used.
Without caddy online 100g is €7, whittard.co.uk/tea. We bought in Brown Thomas.
Dunnes Stores Traditional Tea 227g €1.99
Immediately all tasters agreed this tea was well balanced with a clean taste. Later, when they saw it was such good value, they liked it all the more.
Blended by Barrys and packed in Co Cork, it’s a quite an elegant tea, with and without milk.
Mahers Assam 100g €3.40
“A grand cuppa”, said one taster and the others agreed it had a lot going for it.
Interesting, delicate, most thought it was best without milk, but would make it stronger if using some. They were right, it worked.
From Mahers Oliver Plunket Street, Cork, shop, where there is a good range of pots, strainers and filters.
Three Spoons FTGF0P1 Mokalbari East from Assam 100g €5.45
This tea had a nutty freshness, clean, yet with a deep, traditional tea flavour. Leaves plump up nicely and didn’t flow through the strainer.
A delicious brew. We also loved OP (Orange Pekoe) Blackwood (100g €6.95), an organic and Fair Trade wiry leaved tea from Ceylon which has a deep red colour with an impressive bouquet and rich aftertaste.
From an extensive range at Market Parade, 10, Patrick Street, Cork.
Lyons Gold Blend 250g €3.69
The flavour here was strong and lively, and while not any taster’s favourite, there were no real criticisms of it either.
A blend of Kenyan, Assam and Ceylon teas, with Rainforest Alliance accreditation. While originating in UK and blended there, it once had an Irish holding company.
It is now owned by multinational Unilever.
Barrys Classic Blend 250g €4.15
From Rainforest Alliance certified farms, by far the oldest and best loved Irish tea blenders and still based in Cork, the black box is the company’s premier offering and has plenty of richness.
Described as “a good builders’ tea” by one taster, it can take a lot of diluting when served without milk. We made it at half strength and still pleased those who like a milder, but robust, brew.
Loose Leaf The Merchant Prince 100g €6
A blend of Ceylonese highland, Assam and Java teas, this is a strong, highly flavoured, large-leaved aromatic tea, best suited to drinking with milk (or weaker without).
We also liked its Russian blend Samowar and Irish Breakfast teas. From Loose Leaf, a charming shop with a huge range suited to many tastes at 4 Fenns Quay, Cork.
McEntee’s Gold Blend 250g €6.75
“Earthy” was the word used by one taster to describe this classic traditional blend of Assam and Kenyan teas with lively, complex flavours blended by Helen and Donal McEntee in Co Louth.
Ease off quantity if drinking black. If serving with milk, use a teaspoon of tea per person.