These cold months were made for winter warmers. For strolling through the streets, hot chocolate in hand, looking at the Christmas lights.

For starting the morning with a cup of coffee while you work away and for a relaxing evening by the fireplace, watching Netflix or reading a book and having a cup of tea. With warmth, winter is not so bad after all. In fact, it can be fantastic.

There are many Irish businesses that specialise in winter warmers. Many people might know them already, but Irish Country Living has taken a look behind the scenes, where the chocolatiers, coffee roasters and tea experts are at work to bring some warmth to you this winter.

Cups of tea

Located in Galway, the Secret Garden specialises in teas. Mara Gedrovica opened the cafe in 2012.

Since she is on maternity leave, her sister Ieva (left) has taken over the reins and currently runs the tea shop.

With couches, a reading corner with a bookshelf and pillows on the floor, the Secret Garden is a retreat for many Galwegians and tourists alike. Ieva gives us more insight into the world of teas.

What is your favourite part about working in this industry in the festive season? Everything! Myself and my sister are from Latvia and there the Christmas season is all about the warmth, the warm drinks and the gingerbread. It is also about the atmosphere, the smells and the lights. It’s just very special that we can somehow bring that to Irish people in the cafe, with the tea, with candles, with blankets and we also have a cat.

What is your winter warmer best-seller? It’s definitely the chai teas. Different ones with spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom cloves. Loads of comforting drinks as well, like hot chocolates, chai lattes and all those kinds of milky, flavoured, sweet drinks. But tea still is the most popular thing.

Are you a summer or winter person? If I could live in the Secret Garden every day of the winter and didn’t have to go outside, I would definitely be a winter person. But really, I think autumn is my favourite time. It’s still warm, but the colours are changing, the jumpers are coming out as are the teas. Each of the seasons has its benefits but I think I would lean towards autumn and not the crazy cold.

Do you have a ritual when you drink your favourite winter warmer? I think it definitely has to be the atmosphere. If I’m in the shop, I definitely go for a seat where our cat is sleeping, because she’s such a cuddly cat. If that seat is free next to her I sit there, then there’s blankets and pillows and I quite like people-watching, because it’s lovely to see everyone enjoy themselves. Especially this time of year, because people are very nervous and stressed. It’s just nice to see that people are kind of unwinding, just for a little moment.

Cups of hot chocolate

Kasha Connolly from Hazel Mountain Chocolate. \ David Ruffles

Hazel Mountain Chocolate is a bean-to-bar chocolate factory, meaning that they source the cocoa beans, roast them and press them into chocolate. It takes about a month to turn cocoa beans into chocolate. Kasha Connolly and her team support direct trade. This allows them to deal directly with the farmers and they only work with small farmers.

Hazel Mountain Chocolate is well known for its indulgent yet lower-in-sugar hot chocolates. They make hot chocolate from only two ingredients: Cocoa beans and sugar. Hazel Mountain Chocolate’s production factory is located in the Burren and they also have cafes in Galway and Bellharbour.

What is your favourite part about working in this industry in the festive season? I think my favourite part is that I am surrounded by comfort foods in the wintertime and I think that’s really nice. Creating food and sharing foods with other is, at least for me, a big part of food consumption. I think the fact that I can be creative and spread comfort, that’s just extra special.

Are you a summer or winter person? A winter person for sure. I come from Poland and my hometown is in the south of Poland. It’s in the mountains, so I really have a sentimental kind of relationship with winter time – snow and all the traditions and comfort foods. I think we all associate winter with some sort of comfort. In my case, it’s always been comfort foods like winter warmers. It’s also that perfect balance from coming into the house, being absolutely frozen and maybe, you know, trying to get snow off your boots and then you go straight into drinking the lovely hot chocolate. I think for me, all of those are very strong sensations that I associate with winter.

What is your favourite winter warmer? At the moment my favourite winter warmer is tea. You’re going to think I’m crazy, but tea with a little bit of honey, lemon and a shot of rum. We have cocoa tea which is made from cocoa shells and there is some cinnamon, ginger and cardamom in it. I started using that cocoa tea to make my winter warmer. Normally, in the past, I would have maybe only made it with black tea but cocoa tea is amazing because it already has those really lovely spices.

Do you have a memory connected to a winter warmer? Definitely a hot chocolate at my granny’s house. She would always add a pinch of cinnamon and she’d make it extra hot for us as well. Having a hot chocolate with just the pinch of cinnamon, and made by my granny, I think that’s definitely something that’s stuck with me. It’s a memory of coming from the cold outside, maybe playing outside coming in, and having something that really puts you at ease. Granny was just like most grannies; she would spoil us. There was no trying to convince her to make this hot chocolate like with your parents, who maybe you have to kind of negotiate a little bit with because they tried to mind your sugar consumption.

Cups of coffee

Cups of coffee for cold winter days.\ James Connolly

Anam means soul as Gaeilge and that goes to the heart of what Anam Coffee is about. As a speciality coffee roastery in the Burren, founder Brian O’Briain’s mission is to tell a story through his coffee.

He intends to close the gap between coffee farmers and coffee drinkers. All the coffee is organic and sourced from small farmers who grow their coffee in an ethical and sustainable way.

Brian O'Briain and his dog, Charley.

What is your favourite part about working in this industry in the festive season? I love meeting people who have never drank our coffee before and who have been gifted the Christmas coffee, because it brings me into a house that perhaps we would never have gotten into otherwise. Christmas is special. It’s a time, I also think, for stopping, taking stock of who you are, where you’re going and who you spend your time with, and for us to play just a small role in that is a privilege.

What sells best for you in the winter time? I would say we sell more of our darker-style coffees. Those coffees that have more dark chocolate and roasted hazelnut flavour profiles go really well with milk. We sell more online this time of the year than we would traditionally during the rest of the year. Our retail channel and online channels are definitely busier this time of the year.

Are you a summer or winter person? I’m a winter person. I love fireplaces and I love walking my dog in the cold when we have to wrap up and put coats and scarves on. I’m absolutely a northern hemisphere boy. I love the changing of the seasons and winter time is a chance to slow down. I love the stillness and the quiet of it. It allows me to rest. You can stay in and indulge in whatever it is you want to indulge [during] the winter. Whether that’s wine, movies, chocolate, dogs and cats, friends or all of the above.

January is my favourite month of the year, which sounds bizarre to most people. It’s proved the most depressing time of year for so many people, but for us it’s when the business finally starts to go into a little bit of a slumber. It means we get to lie in but, more importantly, it means we get to reconnect with the community and some friends and family that perhaps we haven’t seen all year because we’ve been too busy.

Do you have a memory connected to a winter warmer? A place that’s very close to my heart is Denmark. I lived there for a few years in my in my late teens and early 20s, I went to university there. At this time of the year in Denmark they have their gløgg, as they call it. It’s basically a mulled wine and I remember being introduced to it in a very cold, dark Nordic winter. It’s pretty special in so many ways. It’s got lots going on, it’s citrusy, it’s got cloves and lots of wine, lots of alcohol. It warms you from top to toe.

We would always have drank it with friends. You would start your evening with a gløgg and cinnamon biscuits. That, for me, epitomises Christmas, winter and all that’s special about this time of the year.

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