I’m sure Juanita Browne must be fed up of tackling the question - why write a book about tea?
“A few years ago, I started working on a wildlife documentary project with Crossing the Line Films, a film production company based in Wicklow. I noticed a sign on the wall of the kitchen, that listed the tea-making instructions for each staff member. No matter who volunteered to make the tea, the ‘Tea List’ ensured that everyone got the cup they wanted, “ she explained cheerfully - as if it is the first time she had dealt with the query.
On the surface, it may seem difficult to get enough copy to fill an entire book about the much loved beverage.
“I met some people who were doubtful. One man told me, ‘no you definitely won’t get enough information for a book’ , that was before he spoke for three hours about tea,” she laughed.
The self confessed tea addict began to think about Irish people’s relationship with the drink and the chat that goes with it.
Having toured the country, sipped from china cups and mugs, and dunked biscuits with famous folk and people from all walks of life, Juanita has weaved together a fantastic heartwarming tale evoking precious memories, humorous incidents and above all, the genuine goodness in people.
Her second book, “Put the Kettle On”- The Irish Love Affair with Tea” published by The Collins Press, is a departure from her first foray into the literary world with “Mammals of Ireland” in 2005.
However, the Trinity College Zoology graduate has worked in various aspects of print media, television and radio documentaries and is at home writing in many fields.
During her school days at St. Brigid’s National School, Ballysax, she recalls it was a privilege to make the tea for the teachers when you reached the older classes. She points out that Peter Kelly (from Brides of Franc) said when he arrived back from England to school here in Ireland, he couldn’t get over the fact that some of the pupils made tea for the teachers.
“We loved it, it gave us real responsibility. He thought it was slave labour at the time,” added Juanita.
During her tea adventure, Juanita met a man who has collected over 500 tea pots, explored the fire service’s relationship with tea, builders and their tea, comedians, music artists, broadcasters, teachers, a nurse, artists, a men’s shed group, a bowls club, a womens’’ group, actors and many professions. Patrick McDonald, who played Eoin McLove from Father Ted; Roisin O, Roddy Collins, Joe Brolly’s mother, Anne; broadcaster Tom Dunne, comedian Anne Gildea from The Nualas; wildlife expert, Colin Stafford Johnson and broadcasters, Joe Donnelly and Keith Walsh were among the more well known tea lovers.
A chin wag about tea often evolved into more personal accounts.
“I think we are a nation of talkers. Tea is such an oil for chat. It’s the first thing that happens when you enter someone’s house, you are offered a cup of tea.
“I want to thank everyone who welcomed me into their homes and for the generous hospitality they showed me. They probably thought I was crazy for asking them to talk to them about tea,” she stressed.
One person who touched a chord with Juanita, was John McAreavey, whose wife Michaela McAreavey, was killed on honeymoon. John spoke of Michaela’s love of tea and the charity work carried on in her memory.
“I travelled from the Mullet Peninsula in Mayo to Donegal. I was all over the place,” she explained.
Juanita interviewed almost 200 people in total - 65 of which are included.
The book is beautifully illustrated with old photographs and drawings dotted throughout the pages as well as current pictures of the people whose words line the pages.
Kildare has a strong presence in “Put the Kettle On”. Local Newbridge builder, Tom McDonald tells of his special relationship with tea. Also featured is Pat Lysaght from Naas, Celbridge’s Eric Kemp, Anne Stone, Moira Behan, Maire Behan from Brownstown Bowls, Mary Conroy from Kilcullen, and Blessington’s Bertha Hinch to name but a few local contributors.
Juanita is hoping to bring out part two of the book in the future. A children’s wildlife book is also in the early stages of development.
When it comes to what kind of tea the author prefers herself, she declares her preference for very hot, medium strength Barry’s tea with a generous addition of milk.
In her book, she highlights tea as an absolute necessity before getting her two young boys ready in the morning, Ben (6) and John (3). She remembers the teapot her granny used to make tea with tea leaves when she popped in next door.
The former Holy Family school student emphasises the Irish are officially the biggest tea drinkers on the planet supping 20 million cups a day.
Many people drink six to seven cups a day, the equivalent of 7 lb of dry tea leaves each year .
During her travels, she unravelled the importance of tea on a building site, tea in sport, tea while working on the bog, and tea at times of great distress and tragedy.
She told how; “people working on the bog used to have tea in a billy can, while some used to boil an egg in it.”
Meanwhile, Juanita continues to work at the Crossing the Line, which recently took home a top award at the ‘Oscars’ of wildlife film making for the second time in a row. The film ‘On a River in Ireland’ – a film version of their highly acclaimed nature documentary series “The Secret Life of the Shannon”, was honoured at the world’s leading Wildlife Film Festival - Jackson Hole in Wyoming USA. Over the coming weeks, she is embarking on a publicity drive to get the word out about her book. She is due to appear on the Ray D’arcy show, Ireland AM and many other shows. No doubt, the debate will continue as to what the nation’s favourite cup of tea is.
- Niamh O’Donoghue