I was delighted when The Collins Press in Cork asked me to review their book ‘Put The Kettle On’. Upon reading the blurb, I knew it was my cup of tea (sorry, couldn’t resist) and I took comfort in that I am surrounded by a nation of devoted tea lovers.
Put The Kettle On – The Irish Love Affair with Tea was written by Juanita Browne, a Zoology graduate now working in media, and, as you may have guessed, she’s also a fellow tea lover. The author sets out to explore every possible aspect of the Irish tea-drinking habit: the historical and cultural significance, the important rituals and occasions associated with making tea, the crucial matter of taste, and even the tea-making process – from harvesting the tips to the finished product.
The author carried out her research by travelling throughout Ireland to interview people from all walks of life to ask them about their tea-drinking habits, and so the book takes the form of a series of interviews. It is brimming with personal tales and funny stories from people who love tea describing their experiences and preferences for tea. It details the endless functions tea serves; how people use tea to warm themselves up, to get ready for the day ahead and to relax in the evening after a hard day’s work. And there are tales of woe; where a cup of tea provided an emotional crutch and made unbearable and trying times that little bit easier to endure. The book is also jammed with facts, like the Irish are the number one per capita consumer of tea in the world!!
Particularly striking, is how the book demonstrates the versatility of tea and how it can create or add a sense of occasion to any moment, or simply become the occasion in its own right. As Aishling Browne says in the book ‘Tea is not given the respect it deserves’ and this is something, through reading this book, that I’ve only come to realise, even as a self-professed tea lover.
My favourite quote, again, from Aishling Browne, which resonates closely with my own experiences is ‘one of the most rewarding and deserving cups of tea has to be the one just after childbirth’. As a mother of twins, I wholeheartedly agree! I can also identify 100% with Tom Dunne’s take – ‘I get up with the kids and as they cause mayhem, I have a cup of tea and a slice of sourdough toast. It is a combination that easily takes the sting out of the early hour.’
I think the author achieved everything she set out to do and more. By travelling far and wide to interview such a variety of people, she has uncovered the extent to which tea is used as an emotional crutch and in such a variety of circumstances and settings. This book is quite unique, in that it uncovers our love of something so important and intrinsic to the Irish identity, the daily support it gives us, and how we still take it for granted.
I would recommend this book to everyone as I think many would enjoy the anecdotal tales and the gorgeous black and white photos from a bygone era. I enjoyed the old stories of how people brought their tea to the bog in lemonade bottles. There are quite a few funny stories from Irish celebrities and also a scrumptious recipe for tea bread from Catherine Fulvio.
Reading this book will make you more mindful of your tea-drinking habits and generate countless conversations in your household. I can guarantee it will spark a debate on the right and proper way to make tea, as the book reveals our absolutist attitude – that our way is the only way.
For me, the book has evoked old memories of how we all sat around drinking tea at my granny’s house every Saturday afternoon (even the coffee drinkers), memories which could well have remained untapped – milky tea served in a small, chunky mug with a custard cream, or two, if you were lucky. Also, I personally didn’t appreciate the intricate process and amount of effort required to produce and blend the different varieties of tea, which the book describes in great detail. Put the kettle on is the sort of book you may not read in one or two sittings, given its structure of a series of interviews, but once you’ve finished the book, it’s the sort that you could pick up again and again to enjoy the historical references and nostalgic photographs.
And now I naturally can’t resist adding my tuppence worth. I love tea as I see it as a reward for a job well done. When my twins were babies and they were finally settled down for a nap, I’d reward myself with a lovely cup of tea – always Lyon’s Green label, just like the author’s mother.
I was provided with a copy of Put the Kettle on for review purposes and the opinions expressed are all my own.
Photo credit : That’s my cup of tea. https://www.flickr.com/photos/cocreatr/2189565980/