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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Birse cup, Birse tea




According to the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) a Birse cup is


“the last cup of tea, with whisky or other spirit added, usually a third cup, an extra. The expression is said to have originated in the parish of Birse. The spirit was put in instead of cream”.



The earliest example in DSL comes from the Scotsman of January 1912:


“What Birse Tea is everyone in Deeside knows ... but no one is apparently able to give me a satisfactory explanation”.


There is an earlier example from the Stonehaven Journal of November 1867:


“… the drinking was such as will now scarcely be credited. It began with a ‘cinder’ in your last cup of tea; this was the birse cup”.


The heading of this article is “Old Fashioned Customs in Dumfriesshire”.



Going back even further, the Aberdeen Herald and General Advertiser of August 1857 gives the following recipe for Birse tea, which seems to bypass the necessity of actual tea:


“no more than the most thorough-going temperance hotel keeper here or elsewhere can prevent you and your friend, reader, from making ‘Birse tea’ (a comfortable compound, be it known, hot water, sugar, and whisky), if you be pleased take your abode in his house, and pay your way”.



More recently, an article about drinking in Scotland in the Daily Record of March 2022 gives us:


“Birse Cup - This term refers to adding whisky (or other spirits) to tea or coffee after dinner instead of milk (also known as a ‘Gaelic Coffee’)”.


This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel. Visit DSL Online at