Mark Thompson and Paula McIntyre outside Woodbank House, near Garvagh, during filming for Talkin’ Tay
After plain water, the most socially shared drink in the world is tea. More than 36 billion cups are drunk every year in the UK and Ireland. For most of us in Northern Ireland, life without tea would be hard to imagine, but there’s so much more to our humble cuppa than we know.
The Ulster-Scots, the Irish, French and Spanish all call it ‘tay’. For the Chinese it’s ‘cha’, in India it’s ‘chai’ – but whatever you like to call it, behind every sip there’s an army of people, centuries of history and a wealth of traditions.
In the hour-long film Talkin' Tay, on BBC Two Northern Ireland and BBC iPlayer on Sunday 22 October at 10pm, Ulster-Scots broadcaster and blogger Mark Thompson explores tea’s multi-faceted story, past and present.
Mark Thompson with Phyllis Clyde, owner of Woodbank House near Garvagh, during filming at the house for Talkin’ Tay
From the tea gardens of Western Uganda to afternoon tea with Chef Paula McIntyre and the members of Garvagh’s historic Women’s Institute – the first in Northern Ireland - Mark tells a story of imperialism and exploitation and of espionage and addiction, as he learns how a drink that was once exclusive to royalty became an everyday essential.
He reveals how a young Ulster-Scot from a family of tea importers would revolutionise tea production around the world. Samuel Cleland Davidson realised that tea production was labour intensive and inefficient. Though he had no engineering training, he invented a revolutionary system for drying tea leaves which then became the world’s earliest air conditioning system. His family’s Sirocco Tea blending factory would grow to become one of the world’s largest mechanical engineering works, and a huge employer in Belfast.
Mark won’t just be uncovering tea’s rich and fascinating history, he will explore contemporary narratives too. He’ll share international success stories, as he meets some of the long established Northern Ireland family firms, with enduring connections to India and Africa and share a cup with people from some of Northern Ireland’s other tea-loving cultures, who all add their own distinctive flavour to the brew.
“Whether you can stand your spoon in it or it’s as weak as dishwater; whether it’s sipped from the best china or just as a ‘drap in yer haun’, tea is part of our shared traditions, with a place in all our stories.”
Talkin' Tay is a Northern Star films production for BBC Northern Ireland, made with the support of the Ulster-Scots Broadcast fund.