Posted in Kafevend Blog
Tea is as much a national institution in Ireland as it is in the UK. More so in fact, with Ireland world first for per capita tea consumption. Travel back in time to the early 1800s though and things were a little different to today. Tea was still a very expensive commodity and so, little wonder, it was enjoyed only by those of the upper classes.
Now, the British East India Company is a name that crops up regularly in Kafevend blogs and for good reason too; this behemoth of a company was the name behind one half of all global trade at its zenith. It was a feat of considerable courage then, when in 1835 two Irish Quakers, Samuel Bewley and his son Charles Bewley, broke the East India Company's monopoly on tea and imported over two thousand chests of it from Canton straight to Dublin. Prior to this all of Ireland's tea had to be purchased via the London tea auction, compromising the freshness of the tea for Irish consumers. Daring to break the monopoly was only a part of the Bewley family firm's bravery though, because tea drinking still hadn't become popular with the masses; they really were taking something of a chance. The fact that Bewley's, along with Barry's, Thompson's and Lyon's, is one of the big names in Irish tea today is proof that the gamble paid off!
Buoyed by success in the tea trade, Bewley's expanded their business into coffee and in due course opened cafés in Dublin too. Their most well known was opened in 1927 and their Grafton Street Café remains a much loved landmark in the city to this day, with over a million visitors crossing its busy threshold each year! Ernest Bewley's design plans for the café were influenced by a combination of Parisian, Viennese and Oriental tearooms, while the centrepiece was provided by the gifted Irish artist, Harry Clarke, in the form of six beautiful stained glass windows. The café quickly became a favourite meeting place for writers and artists and was mentioned by James Joyce in 'Dubliners'. It attracts an arty crowd to this day with a room dedicated to café theatre, where a variety of jazz, drama, comedy and cabaret is presented. Besides its theatre and stunning décor, it was and still is renowned for its coffee, always hand roasted on the premises. Definitely sounds like one for the 'to do' list next time you find yourself in Dublin.
And as it turns out, it's not just Dublin that hosts a Bewley's cafe either. The company remains as open to innovation as it was back at the beginning under Samuel Bewley. As well as an expanding group of cafés in and around the Boston area of the USA, a district whose population claims the highest Irish ancestry in the country, it also owns another coffee business over in California.
Staying true to its Quaker roots, Bewley's was the first to introduce Fairtrade coffee into Ireland in 1996 and has worked to establish direct partnerships with coffee growers in Central and South America. Couple this with the many gold awards that both their tea and coffee has secured from the 'Great Taste Awards' over the years and you can see why Bewley's is still going strong some 175 years after it first began.