Like me, my friends in Ireland like their TEA. The two most popular Irish brands are Lyons and Barry’s – and loyalties are hotly divided over the two brands. Certainly, everyone in Ireland I’ve spoken to about tea knows which they prefer. I am a person of strong opinion where tea is concerned, so Eimear recently sent me both brands so that I could make up my mind . . .

So, on the left, we have a pyramid-shaped Lyons teabag, and on the right, a more traditional rectangular Barry’s teabag . . .

The packaging of both brands is actually weirdly similar . . .

Lyons . . .

Barry’s . . .

Lyons . . .

Barry’s . . .

I took a good slurp of both and decided that the winner is most definitely . . .


I found the taste of the Lyons strangely familiar – the shape of the tea-bag, and the fact that it is distributed by UniLever leads me to wonder whether it is, in fact, essentially the same tea as PG Tips?

I do not know whether Barry’s has a UK brand equivalent – it did not taste familiar, and I have tasted many, many teas. To me it seemed a good afternoon tea – “brisk”, as it says on the packaging – and I’m definitely looking forward to drinking my way through the rest of the box. Mmmmm. . . tea . . .

You will note that was nothing objective at all about this experiment: a blind tasting is pretty much impossible to conduct solo; there was no control; I had my suspicions that the pyramid-shaped bag contained PG Tips before I tasted it; and perhaps, too, I am drawn to Barry’s because I find the name vaguely amusing (Barry (as in Barry-The-Tramp) is the shorthand in this house for a stubbly face that needs a shave). Anyway, I hope I’ve not offended any Irish readers in the Lyons camp!

And while we are on the subject of experiments, I want to say a big CONGRATULATIONS to Tom, aka Barry, whose important new work on B-cells and MS is currently climbing up the immunology charts as the “most read” paper in the Journal of Experimental Medicine. WHOOT!

78 thoughts on “experiment

  1. I have to have at least six cups of tea a day but, despite having had an Irish father, I’m afraid I have no opinion on Lyons versus Barry. For many years I had a serious Sainsbury’s red label addiction to the extent that I used to ship it from London to Manchester in the days when the nearest Sainsbury’s to Manchester was in Stockport. But these days I am a Cafe Direct person.

    My daughter turned eleven yesterday and had eight of her friends round for a party. The shriek-ometer was off the scale. Instead of giving them plastic party bags I made each of them one of your two Kates project bags from old bits of fabric (mainly IKEA) that I had around the house. They were a huge hit, filled with crocheted flower brooches, notebooks and the like. So many thanks for that.

    Best wishes,


  2. I love Barry’s over here in the US! It’s difficult to find but worth hunting down. I can’t recall what brand of tea I first drank when I studied abroad in Cork ages ago, but that’s where my love of proper tea started. :)

  3. During my 7 years in Ireland, I always drank Barry’s Tea and I always thought it was amazing. I’m not sure I ever had Lyon’s. Your post has made me very thirsty as there is NO TEA in MOOSTE. I am sure there is in Tallinn, but the suspicious looking nonsense that I purchased in the convenience shop of MOOSTE has not satisfied my tea requirements one iota! It is a small price to pay. On the other hand, one can buy sweet curd cheese with RAISINS in it and fresh milk from local dairy farmer… swings and roundabouts, as they say.

    …And that is wondrous news re: Tom and his paper. Huzzah for the brilliant paper and for Tom!

  4. :) curious! I am sipping my tea and reading tweets, and your latest blog post :)
    I think you may want to stay on your local tea, and that is good for country economy of course, but if sometimes you will try something else I will be happy to send you some samples of the one I love at the moment: Dammann Fréres. there are many wonderful taste, the company is from a late French family (now is part or Illy group), and import excellent black or green tea from China and Japan. The bags are full of exicated tea leaves, and the flavored are best too. so if you are just curious to try let me know, i will be happy to send you some :)
    ps: not affiliation, i am just a happy customer :)

  5. i’m always happy to think of dr. needled in his laboratory, which i think of as old well-maintained plaster over donjon walls, like mr. mole’s house. flourescent lights. silence. civilized but hair-raising convo over battery acid tea in the afternoons. smell of wet tweeds. scottish enlightenment. yeah.

    1. Hahahaha, this is awesome. Come to think of it, my own husband (a Dr. of philosophy, so only a logic laboratory consisting of many sheets of paper covered in indecipherable scribbled symbols) reminds me a bit of Mr. Mole:-B Thanks for the laugh Jeanette!

      On the tea front, we are Canadian transplants to the States, with a Scottish mother on one side and an English mother on the other; in Canada we drink Red Rose (which used to be “Only in Canada, pity” but is now available in the States, but it doesn’t taste the same), with the occasional box of Twinings Irish Breakfast or Yorkshire Tea, usually the result of a Christmas present from my Scottish MIL. Here in the States we are still looking for a “standby” tea – we can get Twinings and there are often good sales on Yorkshire tea, but we’ve also been pleasantly surprised with the “Irish” tea from Trader Joe’s. But most important, we’ve fallen into my MIL’s habit of adding some jasmine tea leaves to the pot of orange pekoe. This tastes wonderful, but has the good/bad side effect of tugging on the heartstrings, since the smell always reminds us of home (the first time I did it, my husband said “why does it smell like my mum?” sigh). Especially, it reminds me of the tin my MIL keeps the jasmine tea in – it’s a red tartan tin, very beat up, labelled “Nippy Sweetings, Extra Strong Mint Boilings.”


  6. Congrats to Tom! Thanks for sharing the article. My mother and brother both died of kidney failure linked to autoimmune responses and my sister-in-law has MS. It is heartening to see how much research has been done since my mother’s death in ’97.

  7. Congratulations to Tom! I also live with someone who publishes in scholarly journals, and I know the elation (and disappointment). As for your tea experiment, I like Barry’s too; we can get it here in Canada as well as PG Tips. I suspect the latter is the same as our Red Rose brand, repackaged. When we moved back to Canada from 16 years in Washington, DC, the best part was being able to get a decent cup of tea–preferably strong and with milk. Couldn’t survive without it!

  8. Congratulations to Tom! You must be so proud.

    I have drunk Barry’s tea in Ireland and loved it even more than my usual Yorkshire. In my native Wales in the 50s we used to drink ‘Horniman’s tea’ and was bitterly disappointed when I couldn’t find it in Northolt when I moved there.

  9. tea BAGS ????? (please read that with the ‘music’ : “in a hand bag” (dame E Evans)
    why not tea ‘en vrac’ (loose ?)

  10. Last summer, I was standing in the check out line at the Metro grocery store at Bloor & Robert in Toronto. The lady in front of me spied the boxes of Barry’s tea in my cart and I saw her eyes fly open. She immediately whipped out her cell and called her friends. She looked at me, winked and laughingly told her friends they won’t have to fill their suitcases next trip home to Ireland, as Barry’s is sold at Metro! It is hard to find in Canada and the fact that Metro stocks it, is one of their redeeming qualities. Love Barry’s. Good tea is surprisingly hard to find. Now to find a knockout chai…

  11. I’m a Barry’s girl myself. You must try their red and black brand. Red is that bit stronger than the green I find. Welcome to the Barrys fan club!

  12. Yay for Tom!

    On the tea, you had me either way until you put milk/cream in it. I am firmly in the lemon and sugar camp!

  13. No comment on the Irish brands, but I just carried two large (240) boxes of Yorkshire back with me from my trip to Scotland….
    And major congratulations to Tom…..

    1. SNAP! with me it was Typhoo, though. I’ve been living away from home for such a long time now that I don’t even miss fish and chips any more but I do still miss a good cup of tea made with Scottish water. To my mind the quality of the WATER is just as important as the quality of the leaves and the milk.

  14. Ooh, tea! I’ve been a consumer/addict of both Barry’s & Lyons, but it was mostly determined by what I could find here in NYC. I prefer the Barry’s too, though.

    Excellent work, Dr. Tom! MS really needs to be wiped out.

  15. It’s always fun to have a tea test! I just bought a box of Clipper’s new ‘big bright blend’. Tastes lovely, but I’m well aware I’m a sucker for their lovely packaging!

  16. I used to be very picky about my tea – Lyons or Bewleys only. Then I moved to New Zealand. Every tea I tried tasted like water.

    Now I don’t mind which tea, as long as it’s ‘proper’ tea (which means Lyons, Barrys or any Irish brand sent over by kind friends and relatives). Really should have put more in my suitcase when I moved…

  17. Congrats to Tom on his immuno publication!

    And as for the unscientific tea test – I’m just amazed you put milk in it. I always thought that was a very American thing. Of course, I love my tea with milk and sugar – for black tea, Tetley will do just fine.

    Now if you want to think slightly differently about tea, how about a rooibos taste test? :)

  18. I like Barry’s, but can only drink it in the morning….it seems to have a bit more caffeine than P.G. Tipps. Dh can tell when I’ve had a cup of Barry’s in the AM because I fidget more than usual….toe tapping, cross legs….swing the top foot, recross legs swing the other foot. I’m not aware of it.
    Also…no cream for me (shudder…not in tea nor coffee). Perhaps a tsp. of local honey in the tea, but nothing more.
    Both Barry’s and P.G. Tipps are readily available in the metro Detroit area. I think I’ve seen Lyons, but have never purchased it.

  19. Here in Ireland, the country is divided on the subject. My better half and I float on a cloud of supremacy above the madding crowd. We prefer Bewley’s Clipper Gold. It is not a bag but a leaf tea. A little more work but a lot of reward for it. Our eldest (22) is tea agnostic and our youngest (20) is a Barrys fan. They have a natty website where you can order tea and tea related stuff at http://www.barrystea.ie.
    Enjoy the tasting.

  20. Hello Kate and congratulations to Dr. Tom! The combined IQ of your household must be stratospheric.
    I first made Barry’s acquaintance in Ireland. The B&B owner said “it’s a bit more dear, but worth it.” I agree. I couldn’t find it in Minnesota so my sister sends me Barry’s from Boston as a Christmas treat. I indulge sparingly with great enjoyment.

  21. Wow! Go Tom! As for the tea, I should send you some Arctic Fire…. it’s made with beautiful little purple flowers and tastes out of this world….x

  22. Congratulations Tom! This post is wonderfully apropos–I am in Ireland right now and know someone who needs an Ireland gift _and_ loves tea. Thank you!

  23. growing up in OZ, one was either a TyneeTips drinker or Bushels [ there was also Robur but no-one I knrw of drank that ]. Then coffee invaded with the wave of postwar Italian immigrants. My children grew up with Twinnings Earl Grey, or English Breakfast, and SIL’s brew of choice is Twinnings Irish Breakfast. So now we drink all three.

    1. My dad was a huge Lan Choo fan. We used to collect the labels on the box, and take them in to a place in Melbourne and swap them for weird things like omlette pans. OK, not weird now, but in the ’60s…

  24. Barry’s all the way. I drink Barry’s Gold Blend- the red box. When I moved to London I had to buy a couple of boxes to keep me going. Delighted to hear that you have been introduced.

  25. So now I have to go on a tea hunt. I am nothing if not susceptible to suggestion. However, I do drink my tea clear or with lemon.
    Tom must be really chuffed over his success! Congratulations to both of you!

  26. Speaking as someone who cannot function before a cup of the amber fluid passes her lips in the morning, I am delighted to discover all these new brands of tea to track down (thank you Conor in Ireland for the link). Coming from a leaf-addicted household, it is getting harder and harder to find the packets on supermarket shelves, so the www is a boon. We mix our black tea with a tiny amount of Earl Grey to give a bit of oomph. Lubberly stuff. Congrats on the No 1 possie to Dr Tom … writing papers is like having a baby, the incubation and delivery is hard work, but once it’s out there you can sit back and bask in the sunshine of your endeavors ;-)

  27. What a coincidence that just two days ago I was sent a package from my good friend in N.Ireland, an Irish Breakfast Tea variety under the brand name of “Thompsons” , which is blended in Belfast. While I realize that the Republic is culturally different than N.Ireland, I am guessing that tea is tea, and that Irish Breakfast tea is appreciated with great longitude and latitude on the Emerald Isle and throughout the British Isles? I drink Irish Breakfast by the pint these days (in a pint glass). Congratualtions to Mr B !!! I have an hunch just what an accomplishment it is to be published int the top journal! Wow !

    1. Oh, and in the excitement of the Irish Breakfast tea (and forgot to mention with the tea package from N.Ireland, came two Donegal Studio “Aran Donegal Tweed” skeins, a double coincidence ! (and a few items of shortbread , oatcakes and Scottish cheese to eat with the tea) ~~~ But most importantly , as I’ve noticed the discussion of MS to be prevelant, that I thought I’d add in (a third coincidence) ~~ that my own mother-in-law also died of complications of MS. Thank you Tom !

  28. Love the tea discussion! My favorite here in Pennsylvania is Glengettie from Wales, when I can find it, which is getting harder. I also love a good Irish Breakfast. I can buy Bewley”s easily, but prefer Barry’s, or Twinings in a pinch. Lucky for me there’s a British imports shop not far away, and he stocks most of it! Congrats to Tom on his research success. I love reading your blog, Kate, and have recommended it to many for inspiration. xo

  29. Congrats to Tom! He amazes me with his attitude (learned through you) and work and play ethics. When we were in Scotland I fell in love with the tea, caffiene gives me quivers so I have to do decaf. Closest (i.e. cheap) I can find here is Tetley. Excuse me if I’m embarrassing anyone…. ps. We have Celestial Seasonings Tea near here in Boulder, many different flavors. Could send you some if you like?

  30. Oh, my, we definitely need breakthroughs in MS, such an awful, insidious disease (my dearest girlfriend died from its complications). Congratulations to Tom and cohorts. Best and earnest wishes to them for future successes.

  31. Barry’s looks darker..more depth of color…richer looking.
    That would be my choice too.
    Isn’t it odd how such a simple discussion as which brand of tea to drink gets knitters involved.
    Tea and knitting ..Knitting and tea.
    A great pair

  32. So funny – read your post this morning from the other side of the planet (Sydney, Australia) – and went to get a morning coffee and there in the coffee shop were the Barry’s tea bags for sale – going to get me some in the next few days .

    I love my tea in the morning but Mildura is my tea of choice at the moment – now keen to try the Barry’s

  33. My son couldn’t live without his Betty’s tea bags. I am old fashioned and only use loose tea. I prefer Ntingwe Kwazulu at the moment, but African tea in general as it has depth of flavour without the excessive tannin content that Indian teas seem to have. I imagine my preference is also influenced by the fact that I prefer my tea à la russe rather than à l’anglaise (with lemon, not milk).

  34. Not wanting to upset any camp I think that Yorkshie tea bags are pretty similar to Barrys. I find the packaging have a similar theme as well. Both are very fine and produce lovely cuppas! Congratulations to Tom that’s a great achievement

  35. Mark Wendell Tea Co. in US probably carries the most extensive offerings of tea I’ve seen. Amazing catalog, but I would imagine you can order online. I get PG Tips for my SIL.
    Congratulations to Tom.

  36. Congrats Tom!!! On the tea front, I converted to Rooibos a few years ago but when I lived in the UK I was most definitely a PG Tips fan!!! Great to see a post about such an important subject!!! lol x

  37. Congrats Tom!!! On the tea front, I converted to Rooibos a few years ago but when I lived in the UK I was most definitely a PG TIps fan!!! Great to see a post about such an important subject! lol x

  38. Congratulations to Tom. A close relative became severely ill with MS within six months. The fewer people have to suffer the better.

    Yorkshire Tea does it for me, I have yet to try the Irish brands though!. It was a lovely post to accompany my morning cuppa. Thank you!

  39. I’m a Yorkshire Gold addict, and drive 100 kilometres to buy it (it is not carried in very many shops.) I will look for Barry’s next time I am at the little British shop and give it a try.

  40. Please thank Tom personally for me–I have MS–and I can’t understand the difference he noted in his paper between this or that B-cell, so I’m very grateful he’s got our backs on that one!

  41. Well done to Dr Tom. I have a friend with progressive MS – it is a horrible disease and I believe Scotland has the highest incidence in the world. More power to his elbow/labratory!
    On the tea front, I love me some Assam but I am still seeking the perfect brand..
    They sell Barry’s in Mellis’s.
    I notice you take milk in second – as is only Right and Proper :)

  42. Kate ~ thank you for being YOU ! I’ve been reading your blog this month (having only known & loved your patterns before) & every day is enriched by the bright tapestry of your journey, your mind & spirit. And thank Tom, too ~ His (& et al’s) work on B Cell depletion therapy is being actively discussed here at Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital in Neurology & Rheumatology Depts. where I’m also being treated for four Autoimmune Diseases, 3 of which are B & T cell mediated. My gratitude for you both exceeds language.

  43. I love my tea, and really enjoyed this. And congrats to Tom, my Mum had MS any research that helps unlock that one is such a bonus!

  44. Until I converted to herbal teas without the caffeine – and it was hard to give up my favorites – I was a PG Tips girl all the way which can be easily found in California, as can Yorkshire Gold. I am also fond of fresh Chinese green teas, but that is another ritual altogether.

    Congrats to Dr. Tom. I read the article and it sounds like wonderful progress for MS!

  45. I live on the westcoast in Canada and I never knew anything but Tetley Orange Pekoe. In my childhood home it was Tetley or nothing. My sisters live in Australia and NZ and when they come home to visit they just breathe in the Tetley and say “Home”. I have noticed that in the last few years I need to put 2-3 teabags in the pot vs. only one when I was a child. I think they have now only put enough tea in the bag to make one cup. Most Canadians that I know make their tea in a mug rather than in a pot. I mostly do too but would never do it in the presence of Mum or Gramma! Loved this article and all the comments from around the globe. I’m going to try some other teas now, just for fun. Don’t tell my sisters.

  46. i’m an Irish girl who doesn’t like tea – cue astonishment when people find out! my friend who has been living in the UK for many years now for work drinks PG Tips because it’s like tea from home… so you’re spot on there

  47. Great work Tom and those two boxes of tea do look very similar and I am sure we have a brand with almost the same box here too…..maybe its a conspiratea?? ;-)

  48. We love our Barry’s tea in this US household, although my husband also likes PG Tips when available, and we both enjoy Yorkshire Gold. I like the stronger tea in the morning and a nice cup of Darjeeling in the afternoon.
    So glad to hear that Tom is doing such important work on MS. We have several friends with this horrible affliction, waiting for enough to be known that a cure can be found. Congratulations, and thank you from the bottom of my heart, Tom.

  49. I love to try different tea’s too.Congratulations to Tom for the work he does, the immune response and this type of study is so important.Recently I was interested, and horrified to find that diesel particulate has more profound adverse affect on certain immune cells; it is polluting enough without this also. So much to be unlocked in the study of the immune system. Synthetic fragranced chemicals, and diesel fumes are so toxic to me( and everyone for that matter). I hope Tom can unlock more here,

  50. How fun! I am now curious to try out Barry’s tea. At my grandparents house they have a whole cupboard in the kitchen devoted to tea which is wonderful, though most are green tea varieties (we are Asian) rather than black. I also love your mugs!

  51. Hi Kate, although I’m Irish, living in Co. Kildare, my favourite tea is Campbell’s! It is an East African blend, comes in leaf form in an old fashioned yellow tin and it is divine. I’ve often wondered if it has any Scottish connections, given the name. It is packed by Robert Roberts in Ireland but I think that might be a British company? Not sure but, if you get a chance, try it. Next time you are teaching in TIK I’ll bring you a tin. When I need a tea bag I use McGrath’s Premium Blend from Aldi! It is very good, give it a try.

    Congrats to Tom and love to Bruce.

  52. I’m late to the conversation but I remembered this post when vacationing recently in a remote* mountain cabin in north central Pennsylvania. It was cold and rainy and I’d run out of the tea I’d brought along. I needed tea. In the cupboard was a box of Red Rose I’d bought a year or so earlier, the only thing available at the local grocery besides Lipton. It was good tea. But the (almost) best part was finding a small ceramic horse figurine at the bottom of the box (from the 2006-2008 set on this page: http://www.redrosetea.com/figurines.aspx). I don’t think I’ve seen anything come out of a food package in years that wasn’t plastic. And the best part? “Made in England” is clearly stamped on the figurine.

    *used with some extra consideration after your August 2 post, but it’s back a gravel road with no cell service . . . and bears.

  53. Hi, I am excited to have newly found your site! I just recently discovered Barry’s tea, which reminds me a lot of my beloved Yorkshire Tea from Taylor’s of Harrogate (the cheapest tea available at Whole Foods grocery here in the US, and perhaps the UK equivalent of Barry’s?). I’m guessing it has a high Assam content, which is how I prefer it! I haven’t tried Lyon’s yet, but my fiance and I are getting married in a month and will be honeymooning in Ireland, so I’ll plan to do a comparison there!

  54. Barry’s Gold Blend all the way! I’m American I have never been to Ireland or the UK but I’m a big tea lover. And who knows tea better than our lovely friends across the pond? So I decided to see what the leading brands were. I tried them all and found Barrys to be the best. It’s the most flavorful.

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About Kate Davies

writer, designer and creator of Buachaille (100% Scottish wool)