In our Year of Food and Drink in Northern Ireland it’s important that we celebrate the producers of non-alcoholic drinks here as well as our brewers and distillers.
Tea is the bedrock of our culture here - from births to funerals the comfort of a cup of our national drink is ever present. Punjana have been importing and blending teas here for 120 years.
Owners Ross and David Thompson are obsessive about tea. Rather than rest on their laurels, they are continuously developing and sourcing tea. The jingle for their TV advert, urging us to “pick Punjana tea”, is as iconically Northern Irish as the Giant’s Causeway or the Samson and Goliath cranes.
Belfast-based Suki tea and Miss McKeown’s from Bangor have taken up the mantle of tea blending and have introduced us to innovative flavours like Pear Champagne, Apple loves Mint and Warm Gingerbread to name only a few.
Arcadia Deli on the Lisburn Road in Belfast have a secret weapon in Yorkshire native Linda who works in the shop. She is a tea guru and will guide you through everything you need to know about this liquid treasure.
For my first recipe I’m using a floral tea that Linda recommended,but use Earl Grey or any other scented variety, for a mini tea loaf with orange icing. Perfect with a cup of tea for an afternoon treat.
Last year I bought a juicer with the intention of drinking liquid fruit and vegetables every day. The reality of cleaning the machine out about 10 times when producing a pint of juice nearly put me over the edge. The stress of this repetitive procedure may have undone any good. The answer is to go down the route of bottled juices. At Fermanagh Show last year Fiona Lydon kept me energised with her delicious Seriously Juicy drinks. Her Sweet Beet beetroot juice will give you a jump start like no other.
Belfast producer Paula Heaney who’s company Skinny Malinky’s also does great juices, recently showcased at a Northern Ireland food event in the House of Commons. She was strategically placed near the Bushmills Whiskey stand for counterbalance! Her lean mean detoxifying machine juice is a health boosting elixir and only part of her great range.
Jacquelyn Stewart started growing and pressing wheat grass after reading about its health benefits when she had a cancer diagnosis. Her company has gone from strength to strength and a shot of her verdant juice is the ultimate in a health drink.
We have a relatively new, thriving cider scene here. But really good apple juice, pressed from fruits in Armagh, has been around here for a long time. Unfiltered, zingy juice from apples has been available here for years led by the Armagh Cider Company and McCann’s Cider.
A glass of cloudy juice nearly sums up our food culture here – the simple pressing of one ingredient that’s been around for generations with stories to tell, history and a sense of place. McKeever’s Long Meadow Cider have recently introduced a sparkling version that takes a wonderful product to bubbly new heights.
Papas Mineral Company are in St George’s Market, Belfast, every Saturday selling real lemonade, Sarsparilla, clove, ginger and elderflower cordials.
My grandparents in Cookstown always had ginger cordial in the house. It’s such a great, old fashioned drink. You’ve got to love Sarsparilla just for the name alone but it has a vanilla and spice redolence that guarantees you’ll keep going back for more.
While we wait for the creamy white elderflowers to appear I’m using Papa’s cordial in an elderflower mousse that tops a jelly made with local apple juice. Apples and these fragrant flowers are a match made in heaven.