Bel­ly­ing up to Ire­land’s other famed brew: Tea

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY LYNN FREEHILL-MAYE Spe­cial to The Wash­ing­ton Post

A nice cuppa isn’t new to cool, rainy Ire­land. The repub­lic drinks more tea per capita than any other na­tion but Turkey — a fact that won’t sur­prise vis­i­tors who have ar­rived at one of its tra­di­tional bed-and-break­fasts and im­me­di­ately been of­fered a fresh pot. Still, global cof­fee culture has jabbed at clas­sic black tea’s popu- lar­ity over the past decade, and scores of third-wave cof­fee­houses have opened in Dublin. In re­cent years, de­mure and com­fort­ing tea has slugged back in the Ir­ish capital.

Dublin’s fresh tea of­fer­ings in­clude ex­panded prod­ucts, from hi­bis­cus to matcha, of­ten de­liv­ered with Ir­ish wit. A spate of stylish ur­ban cafes also take the brew out­side its old bounds of home and prim tea rooms, giv­ing tea new ca­chet with mil­len­ni­als and food­ies.

For­mer soft­ware en­gi­neer Oliver Cun­ning­ham, 41, helped start the wave when he drew on his time back­pack­ing and work­ing on In­dian and Viet­namese tea plan­ta­tions to found Wall & Keogh in a for­mer hard­ware shop in 2011. His cafe now serves a changing ros­ter of 150 ex­otic teas. Wall & Keogh has also be­come Dublin’s high­est-pro­file tea whole­saler, sup­ply­ing about 120 of even the most se­ri­ous cof­fee shops, plus the Ir­ish head­quar­ters of com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Twit­ter and Airbnb, with their loose-leaf of­fer­ings.

Cof­fee had got­ten “pretty ag­gres­sive,” Cun­ning­ham said, sit­ting back with a pot of net­tle tea one of his baris­tas iden­ti­fied just by its smell. But “there’s a real strong link to tea in Ir­ish culture,” he added. “Even though cof­fee culture is boom­ing, when you go home, you al­ways have tea. Tea is like a clas­sic tai­lor-made suit. Cof­fee is some­thing new and trendy you buy off the peg. So no, I don’t think tea is pan­ick­ing. It’s con­fi­dent on its Ch­ester­field chair.”

Wall & Keogh serves teas with in-your-face names like Vir­ile Man, Pineap­ple Ex­press and Rooi­bos Uni­corn Tears along­side por­ridge, house-made gra­nola or av­o­cado toast rather than dainty pas-

tries. Mu­sic al­ter­nates be­tween acid jazz and elec­tron­ica in the slate-gray cafe, set in the trendy, techie Por­to­bello neigh­bor­hood.

“We al­ways get asked whether we do af­ter­noon tea and cu­cum­ber sand­wiches. We wanted to strip away all of that,” Cun­ning­ham said. “Ev­ery­thing is tai­lored to take away the granny-with-ablue-rinse as­pect of tea.”

A crew of mil­len­nial Dublin house­mates took off on “tea­pusher” Mrs. Doyle, the house­keeper on the clas­sic Ir­ish com­edy “Fa­ther Ted,” in 2012 to cre­ate a pop­u­lar line of Mrs. Doyle’s Teas. “Sure, and didn’t our Lord him­self on the cross pause for a cup of tea be­fore giv­ing him­self up for the world?” Mrs. Doyle would say on the TV show, giv­ing the ti­tle priest his own pause. The tea line her char­ac­ter in­spired ranges from “De­cent Ir­ish Break­fast” to “Chill Out Pep­per­mint” to best-sell­ing “Hang­over” and “Happy” va­ri­eties, all pack­aged for next-gen ap­peal.

The friends launched Mrs. Doyle’s Teas at Ire­land’s Elec­tric Pic­nic con­certs as a char­ity fundraiser. They con­tinue to sell thou­sands of cups, in­clud­ing a hang­over va­ri­ety and some that are in­fused with rum, at fes­ti­vals with en­ter­tain­ing twists. Co-founder Vi­vian Pucher, a 24-year-old busi­ness strate­gist, was a sen­sa­tion on Twit­ter last year when she dressed as Mrs. Doyle at the Lon­don Cof­fee Fes­ti­val. The team sur­rounded her in mock-protest of cof­fee, car­ry­ing picket signs that read: “Down with this sort of thing.”

The com­pany re­cently de­vel­oped a Mrs. Doyle’s Ir­ish Cream liqueur as well, and fol­low­ing af­ter­noon tea, Pucher hit a fa­vorite lo­cal pub, O’Donoghue’s, to talk drinks.

“The brand­ing does the work for us. Ir­ish peo­ple to­tally love it,” Pucher said. “Right now with cof­fee culture, peo­ple take care with what they con­sume. That’s where tea fits in re­ally well. We bring in some­thing fun.”

Teas the likes of Wall & Keogh and Mrs. Doyle’s are in­creas­ingly avail­able in the well-de­signed cof­fee shops that have made big in­roads into Dublin. Cle­ment & Pekoe, for one, gives the two bevs equal billing in its Cre­ative Quar­ter cafe, which is bright­ened by sky­lights, filled with neo-soul mu­sic and out­fit­ted with a front stoop for peo­ple-watch­ing and in­dus­trial racks of Teekanne teapots and Uji Hikari matcha pouches in the back.

Fum­bally, a funky lunch spot and neigh­bor­hood hub, grows its own lemon ver­bena tea and serves Wall & Keogh-sourced va­ri­eties, one with a dis­tinct ba­con fla­vor.

“There is def­i­nitely a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing, lit­tle by lit­tle, of tea,” co-owner Luca D’Al­fonso said as he stood un­der the cafe’s min­i­mal­ist cord-bulb-and-wire light­ing, tak­ing an or­der for an ul­tra­heavy iron pot of the smoked tea. “It started with wine, then cof­fee, and now we are just en­ter­ing with tea.”

In Smithfield, a work­ing-class area on an up­swing, tiny cof­fee stand Proper Or­der gives tea a rev­er­ent brew. Owner Niall Wynn, 28, pre­sented boil­ing water and green leaves in what looked like a French press, ad­vis­ing: “The first in­fu­sion will be light, cit­rusy, with a grass tang. The sec­ond in­fu­sion will be way more cit­rusy, with a bit of can­died lemon.”

The spe­cial prep was log­i­cal, given that Wynn holds a mas­ter’s de­gree in chem­istry and is Ire- land’s 2017 na­tional-champ barista, slated to rep­re­sent the coun­try at the World Barista Cham­pi­onships in Novem­ber.

Proper Or­der sells 40 cups of tea per day, up from two per day when the mi­cro-shop opened last year. “I knew lit­tle or noth­ing about tea be­fore I started,” Wynn said, ex­plain­ing how he’d learned from the world-class steep­ing at Lon­don’s Post­card Teas. “I re­al­ized it’s as com­plex, if not more com­plex, than cof­fee. Cof­fee’s still our main bag, but tea is on the rise.”

Next, Wynn is investing nearly $3,500 in a new un­der-counter boiler that rapidly brings water to dif­fer­ent tem­per­a­tures for dif­fer­ent tea va­ri­eties.

Other spots al­most com­pletely ded­i­cated to tea have opened in the past few years. Burlap-heavy, patchouli-scented Joy of Chá brews world teas for the back­packer set in Tem­ple Bar. Pea­cock Green & Co. feels like a wealthy aunt’s re­dec­o­rated par­lor, with or­nate gold and teal wall­pa­per, two dozen kinds of tea in glass jars and slabs of cake for cus­tomers rang­ing from a uni­formed school­girl to dig­ni­fied older gents. And Oo­long Flower Power of­fers a meld of af­ter­noon-tea culture and evening lounge, pour­ing maté and red wine to drinkers loung­ing on Ch­ester­field so­fas. Its dozens upon dozens of tea va­ri­eties in­clude Dirty Danc­ing and Ir­ish Cream.

Two men dis­cussed Hei­deg­ger over cups at Oo­long on a re­cent af­ter­noon. They turned out to be phi­los­o­phy grad stu­dents at Trin­ity Col­lege and University Col­lege Dublin: Ben­jamin Er­ring­ton, 37, a na­tive Bri­ton in a polo shirt, and Damien Len­non, 45, a pierced-up Ir­ish­man whose teenage daugh­ter in­tro­duced him to the cafe.

Tea has long been a cul­tural fix­ture on the Bri­tish Isles, the two agreed, but a decade ago two guys might’ve felt odd meet­ing for drinks any­where but a pub. They re­flected a bit about how Ir­ish tea now feels both mod­ern and clas­sic.

“There’s been a def­i­nite cul­tural shift,” Er­ring­ton said. “Tea shops are ac­tu­ally quite cool. Cof­fee’s taken off all over the world, but tea — it feels homey, a bit like you’re in your own house.”



TOP: Burlap-heavy, patchouli-scented Joy of Chá brews teas for the Dublin back­packer set. ABOVE: Oliver Cun­ning­ham scoops loose-leaf teas at his shop, Wall & Keogh.


North­ern Ire­land BRI­TAIN De­tail IRE­LAND Dublin 100 MILES

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