Tea obsessive Niamh O Regan takes a brief tour of some of her favourite spots in Dublin.
CAMELLIA sinensis, a plant that causes such happiness and brings momentary respite to a troubling world, is more commonly known as tea. Contrary to popular belief, tea is not a national obsession. Not everyone drinks tea, and many of those who do, drink “regular tea”, creating the hotly contested debate between Barry’s and Lyons. This regular tea is black tea, but there are many more teas to be found. Depending on variety and treatment, the camellia sinensis gives black, green, white, yellow, oolong, and pu-erh teas.
Paying for tea feels strange sometimes, it’s almost as if, like tap water, it should be free, so customary is its consumption. When you do pay for tea then, it is nice to have it as an experience of sorts, with apt pomp and ceremony. Alternatively it’s nice just to have a lovely pot of tea.
While it is not necessary to match your choice of tea to your choice of cake, some teas go better with certain foods than others. Earl Greys go well with lighter chocolatey cakes, especially chocolate and raspberry cakes, but also with citrusy treats.
With more delicate cakes, where the flavour isn’t particularly strong, it’s important not to pick a very strong flavoured tea that masks the cake flavour. White teas and lighter sweeter green teas are good here, as are jasmines and chamomiles.
Strong black teas go well with other robust and rich flavours. Spicier blends work well with traditional cakes, fruit cakes, carrot cakes and so on. There are many places in Dublin where one can get a rather lovely cup of tea, of all these varieties and some rather nice cake as an accompaniment.
“Paying for tea feels strange sometimes, it’s almost as if, like tap water, it should be free, so customary is its consumption.”
Oolong Flower Power is on Lower Stephen Street, after PMacs, next to Accents. Upstairs jars of tea line the wall on left hand side, and the space is filled with dark red leather chairs and marble topped tables. Downstairs there’s more seating, couches mostly, with glass topped wooden tea chests as tables.
Of course the most important thing is the tea, and Oolong Flower Power have a very good selection (there’s at least three types of Earl Grey). Divided by tea type there’s black, green, rooibos white, herbal and fruit. The way the tea is displayed means that you can follow your nose; try to gauge which tea you’d like to try based on what it smells like in the jar.
After ordering at the counter, once your tea is ready it is brought to you, coming in a ceramic teapot-cup combo, where the pot sits snugly on top of the cup. If you like the tea you have, you can also buy it to take home and brew yourself. The selection of cakes is not particularly extensive, but what is there is very good, as are the sandwiches and pizzas. Despite the fact it can be very busy, the shop always maintains an aura of calm and quiet and never seems to be overly crowded. Conveniently, they stay open until 10pm most nights.
A mere five minute walk from, and strong contrast to Oolong Flower Power, is nestled on the corner of South William Street and Exchequer Street, in the form of the French Patisserie Ladurée. Where Oolong Flower Power is dark and relaxed, Ladurée is a world of pastel opulence, where everything is very delicate, very chic. The atmosphere is one of sprightly happiness.
“Go at your ease, drink at your leisure, a quick cup of tea is no tea at all.”
Ladurée are most famous for their macarons, and the Dublin shop does not disappoint. Flown in from Paris on a weekly basis, the flavours change with the seasons, normally eight different ones are on offer. The pistachio ones are a particular favourite, not being overly powerful in their flavour, but certainly not bland either.
They also have a wide range of other patisserie delights: mini cakes and tarts, all beautifully decorated, as well as having an abundance of croissants and chocolatines. If the abundance is too great by the end of the day, customers often enjoy a complimentary croissant. The tea menu is extensive, and while the teas offered are not visible or sniffable from the shop floor, the menu gives a detailed description of each.
A quick train away south brings us to Blackrock, and House of Tea. Not being in the city centre, it is quieter than the other two and strikes a fresh balance. It is light and airy, not minimalist but simply decorated and very friendly. Here too, the expansive tea collection is displayed on one wall, this time in large tin boxes, and these teas you can also buy to take home with you.
Tea is served in large white teapots, on fitted stands, with none other than a tea light beneath them, to stop the tea from going cold. The food menu is very extensive, and for many of them, the tea pairing is suggested for you. There is never a sense of hurry, or that you’re taking too long to have your tea. Go at your ease, drink at your leisure, a quick cup of tea is no tea at all.