Meet Oliver Cunningham of Wall & Keogh, Dairine Keogh of Clement & Pekoe and Anya Letsko of Joy of Cha.
These three are in the vanguard of Dublin’s tea-house renaissance, a movement that’s three parts infusion of leaves to one part charmingly quirky interior decor. Are they operating on a higher spiritual plane than their coffee-fuelled counterparts? Where are they on the vexed question of sugar? Dublin.ie finds out.
Dublin.ie: You people are making a bit of a song and dance about tea aren’t you? Why so?
Oliver: We do take it seriously at Wall & Keogh but we’re not stuffy about it and the tea tastes very good when you get it. So it’s three-and-a-half to four grams per serving, it’s two-and-a-half minutes steep-time and we brew it at 73 to 75 degrees – it’s really straightforward. If you get portion, steep time and temperature correct you’re going to serve a very good pot of tea.
Dublin.ie: Are you a tea person yourself?
Oliver: It’s not Oasis vs Blur! It’s both! I do love coffee. But I would drink 10 or 11 cups of tea a day; I’d have one coffee in the morning. And that’s the way I do it.
Dairine: I don’t label myself and never make me choose between tea and coffee!
Oliver: When I started this the coffee thing hadn’t really started either. And then coffee exploded and everybody was saying ‘you’re going in for the wrong one! It’s coffee, it’s coffee, it’s coffee’. Well I’d be lying to myself if I went into coffee anyway because I just wouldn’t have the same heart in it as I have with tea. I absolutely and continue to be 100% tea. We serve good coffee here, but it’s really tea, we’re tea people.
they say tea cures everything:
the answer is always tea!
Dublin.ie: Why tea as a business in Dublin?
Oliver: There was nobody doing what I would consider good tea in Dublin without it being really pretentious. And that was one thing I never liked about tea. I grew up on a farm and it’s like saying barley is pretentious – you know, barley’s barley. So the idea of it having this stigma of high tea with cucumber sandwiches – it just made it old and stuffy and boring.
Diairne: We just wanted to put a quality loose tea back centre stage at these times – instead of the lowly teabag that took hold along with a few other ‘convenience foods’ of the 80’s.
Anya: 10 years ago loose tea was very unusual, you know. A lot of people didn’t know it existed! When I first came to Dublin, there was nowhere doing this. I thought: this is a gap in the market!
It’s just a pleasure to drink
a cup of tea with a nice cake
Dublin.ie: Is tea therapeutic?
Oliver: Tea just makes you feel better. It makes you feel revived. You know the way they say tea cures everything: the answer is always tea!
Anya: People come in here and they ask me ‘do you have a tea for flu? Do you have a tea for digestion?’. I tell them ‘no!’. These things don’t exist. It’s tea! It’s just a drink. It’s just a pleasure to drink a cup of tea with a nice cake.
Dairine: I think tea and the process of making proper tea is a ritual all over the world. It can be one of the few moments that you put things to the side. So yes I guess it is therapeutic.
Dublin.ie: Tea makes you a nicer, better, more gentle person, isn’t that right?
Anya: Calmer. Maybe!
Oliver: I don’t want to spook it but we have great customers, you know? I couldn’t be happier with the type of people that come in. They want to learn, a lot of them already love the product, some of them have come on the journey from the very start. We start a lot of people with the likes of the flavoured teas which are beautiful – I still drink them – but then they migrate all the way up to the white teas, the yellow teas.
Right now I’m loving a
Goomtee Muscatel from Darjeeling
Dublin.ie: What led you to tea personally?
Dairine: At home we were always into proper loose tea. Then as I worked as a barista and trained as a tea master, I realized that what was on offer for tea and coffee, even in quality food establishments, was pretty poor (to put it mildly) . That was the seed that developed into Clement & Pekoe over a decade ago.
Oliver: I’ve always been a huge fan of tea. My family would take their tea quite seriously – from basic darjeelings to Earl Greys. My mother’s great at brewing tea. But she would always give me the first cup because she would say that I like it weak. I would always contest that I like it correct.
Anya: I’m from Moscow. We drink a lot of tea there and tea places are very popular.
Dublin.ie: Is tea becoming more popular in Dublin? Why?
Dairine: Yes, tea is a growing market. It’s definitely catching on amongst the younger generation which is great to witness. Perhaps their travels abroad whet their appetite. From afternoon onwards in our cafe we are serving more tea than coffee.
Oliver: I think we’re still not there as regards our understanding of tea. We made great gains for a couple of years but it’s plateaued off a bit – it’s very hard with coffee shouting so loud. But i don’t think that tea will die off now. We certainly sell a lot more of our Irish breakfast tea than we used to.
Tea makes you feel like you’ve got into a hot bath.
Tea’s for the body and coffee’s for the mind
Dublin.ie: What tea would you recommend to a committed coffee person?
Dairine: Start with where you are comfortable. Try a good grade loose version of what you may already be drinking regularly. Or if you are prepared to try something different, go for it. We offer any of the fifty-plus teas we sell in our cafe by the mug. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
Dublin.ie: What’s your favourite tea?
Dairine: Right now I’m loving a Goomtee Muscatel from Darjeeling. It will be on our Autumn menu.
Dublin.ie: What is it about tea and the Irish? Why do we love it so?
Oliver: You know why Irish people love tea! Tea makes you feel like you’ve got into a hot bath. Tea’s for the body and coffee’s for the mind. Coffee is like something that pulls you up whereas tea makes you feel like you can float. Also you can’t really drink 15 cups of coffee a day…
Dairine: We have a long history with a quality strong black tea served with maybe milk and maybe sugar. The ritual of making and serving this is at the heart of ‘taking a break’, having a chat and catching up. Tea’s great for that.
Oliver: I wouldn’t put sugar in tea myself, though…