What I used to drink in Ballinastack and what is commonly referred to as “tea” by everyone else are two entirely different beverages. I’d add enough sugar to satisfy a bustling candy floss stand at a popular traveling circus, and the rest of the mug was filled with tea and milk in almost equal measure. I’m not sure why I liked to add so much milk to my tea but I was not alone. There exists a phenomenon which the in-laws like to refer to as “The Donnellan Pour” at family gatherings. “Do you want a real cup of tea or would you like the Donnellan Pour?”, a perplexed aunt-by-marriage would ask to each of my siblings, in turn, knowing the answer but hoping one of us would surprise her some day. She need not bother to ask my father as he was the biggest culprit of the lot.
I’m not sure if it was down to the fact that there was often a surplus of milk in the house from mornings that we failed to “beat the milkman” but still wanted needed to wash the tank. It could also be down to our impatience to wait for a hotter cup of tea to adequately cool to a safe drinking temperature. Maybe our unpasteurized milk was just so good that we couldn’t get enough of it. Whatever it was, it was a feature of all of our childhoods for as long as we can remember.
As I got older, I did cut down on the sugar and eventually cut it out altogether when I started milking cows for other farmers. I’d often be invited in to have “the tay” or “the brekfesht” and milk was never a problem in these houses but sugar was. “I hope you don’t take sugar, Joseph, do you? I’m afraid we never have sugar in the house.” My canned response for this – like some drug-addled junkie – was that I was trying to give it up. Farmers and their wives have a habit of forgetting whether someone takes sugar or not so I started to lie about my sugar intake until it eventually became the truth.
When I moved to the US, the ratio of tea to milk gradually went from 60:40 to about 95:5. This was due to both the company I kept and the quality of milk that was available. If I said earlier that it was a betrayal to call my tea, tea, it is certainly an embarrassment to refer to the white pisswater that comes in a gallon bottle over here as milk (a gallon over here isn’t really a gallon either but that’s for another day). It is like milk that has all the goodness taken out of it and all that is left is white and water.
Anyway, aside from the milk being worse than a Trump presidency, the Tamers are quite conservative with their pours and no one in the office likes to buy milk so this new ratio has been somewhat forced upon me. The unfortunate thing is that I don’t mind it. Maybe I even like it. I forget about my tea for a few minutes and then get excited all over again when I remember a few minutes later and it’s still piping hot.
On this most recent trip home, the Donnellan Pour was mentioned numerous times. Maybe it was no more than usual or maybe it just resonated with me more this time but I noticed that the “would you like tea with your milk” joke was still in full effect and I was no longer part of it. Of course, I didn’t want to be accused of going to America and coming back with any airs and graces now, did I? So when I was asked how much milk I wanted in my tea, I lied and suggested a little more than usual – which was still nowhere near the Donnellan Pour. It was delicious tea but not something I can replicate over here. The direct-from-the-tank milk and frankly dangerous amounts of limescale in the water, fused with the handful of teabags that are neither stirred nor strained all come together to make something truly unique.
Since I’ve come back to Boston, I have noticed myself add an extra splash – or two – of milk that I wouldn’t usually add to my tea. It makes me smile when I catch myself. I want to keep as many connections as I can to home but some I am slowly losing without even realizing. The Donnellan Pour is one such casualty but trips home are so important to remind me of this.