Something's brewing ... it's time to celebrate tea

Ahead of National Tea Day this Saturday, a day for tea-totallers across the land to celebrate their favourite tipple, we asked a few famous Northern Ireland folk about their tea-drinking habits

Jean-Christophe Novelli has embraced Northern Ireland's tea-drinking culture
Jean-Christophe Novelli has embraced Northern Ireland's tea-drinking culture

In each and everyone of us Ulster folk there lurks a Mrs Doyle.

If a guest arrives to our home, they are barely over the threshold before we morph into the tea-foisting housekeeper from Father Ted,

“You’ll have a cup of tea,” we say. “No, I’m grand,’’ they might reply. ‘‘Are you sure?”, we insist.... “just a wee drap in your hand?’’ (ie a cup of tea and nothing else – no French Fancies, no Custard Creams, no fruit loaf, with half a pound of Dromona slathered on top, no ham ‘sammiches’).

I have had a long and abiding love affair with the the beige stuff, and I’m very particular about the hue of my brew.

Bemused work colleagues will know I like it the colour of a freshly laid brown egg – often I have been tempted to bring in a Dulux colour chart to point them in the right direction. In addition, the milk should be semi-skimmed, the sugar, absent.

I also favour a particular shape of cup; this is anoraky territory, I know, but serve me tea in a big brute of a mug, and we’re finsished.

When I was youngster I remember taking tea out to my farming father as he worked in the fields. It (the colour of freshly laid brown egg) would have been poured into a lemonade bottle with a scrunched up piece of newspaper as a stopper.

Like him, I am an interminable tea drinker -at least 10 cups a day. I honestly feel out of sorts unless I’ve had at least three cups in the morning before I leave for work.

Coffee just doesn’t cut it for me – the calorie-dense, cinnamon-flavoured cream-topped confections peddled by the big coffee chains just aren’t my thing.

Coffee is smug; tea is a coddle in a mug.

Tea is presented as a cure-all for life’s ills. “Nice cup of tea,” people say, whether you’ve just broken a nail, lost your job, or been given a terminal diagnosis. It has been there for me in many a time of crisis.

We argue how best to make tea. “Milk first” some people say, wrongly. Very, wrongly.

Tea-drinkers are ready to duel to the death over how long a bag should be left in a mug, whether a bag should even see a mug in the first place, or whether it should be made the old way, with a teapot – stewed on the hob, until it tastes like tar.

And there’s the biscuit issue – to dip, or not to dip? It’s a minefield.

And the cup debate – should it be a fine bone china cup and saucer or a builder’s mug?

Then there’s herbal tea. If you are foolish enough to enjoy the musty waft of these bags of sawdust, then you’re welcome to it!

Tea (the normal stuff – not green, not flavoured, not fruity or poncey) is in my blood. It fortifies and soothes me. It wakes me up and calms me down. It puts a smile on my mug.

Pamela Ballantine, broadcaster

How many cups of tea do you drink in a day?

I like a cup of tea every now then, usually two or three times a week either in the morning or the afternoon. I am not the sort of person who cannot function without a cup first thing in the morning.

Milk or water first?

Water first.

Do you like it strong, weak, medium?

Definitely strong.

What makes a perfect brew for you?

Drinking a cup in peace and quiet.

Are you a biscuit dunker?

Not really but if I do then it’s a Ginger Nut and trying to get the timing right before it falls off.

Are you loyal to a particular brand?

Yes, Punjana, as they brew their tea for the Belfast palate ... strong.

Rodney McAree, Dungannon Swifts manager

How many cups of tea do you drink in a day?

I’d normally have two or three cups of tea each day. I’m more of a coffee man, to be honest.

Milk or water first?

Water first in tea, for sure – putting milk in your tea first is just wrong!

Do you like it strong, weak or medium? Anything but weak!

What makes a perfect brew for you?

A teapot! Plus any chocolate biscuits.

Are you a biscuit dunker?

No, can’t have the bits at the bottom.

Are you loyal to a particular brand

Not really, I’m not an overly fussy man.

Mervyn Whyte MBE, race director of the North West 200

How many cups of tea do you drink in a day?

On average I would drink about six cups of tea per day.

Milk or water first?

Has to be boiling water first. Adding milk before I always feel makes the tea cooler.

Do you like it strong, weak, medium?

Medium tea all the time. I hate the taste of strong tea.

What makes a perfect brew for you?

Perfect brew is to let the tea pot sit a minute before pouring.

Are you a biscuit dunker?

No, definitely not a biscuit dunker.

Are you loyal to a particular brand?

No particular brand, whatever gets bought I use.

Denise Watson, sports presenter

How many cups of tea do you drink in a day?

I drink at least three mugs of tea a day. I have a favourite stripey mug from Heals in London which I always drink my tea in. I’m very attached to it and don’t like others using it!

Milk or water first?

I always put a wee drop of milk in first. Always.

Do you like it strong, weak or medium?

I like really weak tea if I make it myself. My mum calls it my dirty dishwater tea. But if I share a teapot at a cafe with my hubby he likes it a bit stronger so I compromise on a darker colour.

What makes a perfect brew for you?

Perfect tea is made in a pot. It’s really steaming hot and always has a splash of milk in it. But never sugar.

Are you a biscuit dunker?

Yes, I love dunking biscuits but try as best as I can not to eat too many. So often I’ll drink tea alone without any biccies.

Are you loyal to a particular brand?

Yes, I’m loyal to two brands. Punjana Tea and if I make it from loose tea in a pot then Suki tea, Belfast brew.

William Caulfield, comedian

How many cups of tea do you drink in a day?

Maybe one.

Milk or water first?

I drink it black.

Do you like it strong, weak, medium?

Weak

What makes a perfect brew for you?

Boiling water and a quick dip of a tea bag.

Are you a biscuit dunker?

No.

Are you loyal to a particular brand?

Not really.

Sam McCready, actor and theatre director

How many cups do you drink a day?

At least four-more if offered it.

Milk or water first?

Always water first.

Do you like it strong, weak or medium?

Medium.

What makes the perfect brew?

When the tea’s hot and retains its flavour to the last drop.

Are you a biscuit dunker?

No. Don’t like the crumbs of the biscuit getting in the tea.

Are you loyal to a particular brand?

Yes, Nambarrie Tea every time.

Alexandra Ford, actress

How many cups of tea do you drink in a day?

Maybe four cups a day but more if I’m in rehearsals when I’m constantly sipping tea!

Milk or water first?

I prefer it black so definitely water first.

Do you like it strong, weak, medium?

I’d say medium strength...no builder’s brew for me!

What makes a perfect brew for you?

The perfect tea is made in a lovely large teapot and allowed to ‘draw’ before pouring into a china cup. The pot keeps the tea hot and I could polish off the whole lot. Bliss.

Are you a biscuit dunker?

No. I’d rather have a delicious slice of cake than a biscuit and definitely no dunking!

Are you loyal to a particular brand?

Yes. I love PG Tips or Bewley’s Breakfast tea. I also love Jasmine tea and Earl Grey.

Cliona Hagan, country singer

How many cups of tea do you drink in a day?

I’d say about two cups of 
tea.

Milk or water first?

Water first.

Do you like it strong, weak, medium?

Medium.

What makes a perfect brew for you?

Tiny bit of milk and someone else making it.

Are you a biscuit dunker?

Only certain biscuits I dunk...biscuits with chocolate.

Are you loyal to a particular brand?

Not really.

Olivia Nash, actress

How many cups of tea do you drink in a day?

I drink six cups of tea a day.

Milk or water first?

I put the water in first.

Do you like it strong, weak, medium?

I like my tea strong.

What makes a perfect brew for you?

A china mug makes the perfect cup of tea for me.

Are you a biscuit dunker?

Yes, I dunk biscuits in my tea.

Are you loyal to a particular brand?

Yes, Namosa.

Peter Corry, singer

How many cups of tea do you drink in a day?

Usually around six or seven. I generally take a cup with me in my travel mug, especially if I’m going into rehearsals.

Milk or water first?

In the last six months I’ve stopped taking milk in my tea. It tastes so much better without.

Do you like it strong, weak, medium?

Medium or strong.

What makes a perfect brew for you?

It’s all about timing – as in drinking it at the right temperature .

Are you a biscuit dunker?

Dunker!

Are you loyal to a particular brand?

Not really but there are certain ones I try to avoid.

Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP MP

How many cups of tea do you drink in a day?

At least four and often six.

Milk or water first?

Milk first.

Do you like it strong, weak, medium?

Used to be medium, increasingly now it is strong.

What makes a perfect brew for you?

Mug of hot tea with a few squares of chocolate. Great combination.

Are you a biscuit dunker?

Occasionally - mainly chocolate Digestives.

Are you loyal to a particular brand?

I like Johnstons tea made locally but also partial to Yorkshire tea.

Jean-Christophe Novelli, chef

How many cups do you drink in a day?

I usually drink around three cups of tea a day, although now I’m over in Northern Ireland so much with my new restaurant in the AC Hotel Belfast, I’ve been drinking a lot more – everyone likes a good cup of tea here.

Milk or water first?

I always go with the teabag first. Then I add milk and finish with boiling water. Not the way everyone makes a cup of tea, but it’s how I make mine!

Do you like it strong, weak, medium?

I like a good strong cup.

What makes a perfect brew for you?

For me, it’s all about allowing enough time for the tea to brew properly. The type of tea you use is important too. We use Suki Tea – the loose leaf tea gives an incredible flavour.

Are you a biscuit dunker? No.

Are you loyal to a particular brand? Yes, I do love a good cup of Yorkshire Tea but when I’m in Northern Ireland I like to try the different flavours of Suki Tea.