I don't know of a default way of doing it, but you can always assign that control-i shortcut to it in your custom keyboard shortcuts (taking it away from spellcheck). On the mac, it's at the bottom of the edit menu.
Unfortunately this does not solve my problem as the keyboard shortcut assigning dialogue forbids "function keys or Ctrl, Alt and other modifiers" for Tools. To call Tools using the keyboard it seems you are limited to a single alpha-numeric key - which of course is not useful when text is highlighted.
I'm certain there was a way to temporarily call tools using a modifier key combination, whilst text was highlighted, that returned to the Type tool once you'd released all the keys...
You could use swatches if the color you want is in the Swatch Panel. Just double-click the Fill box at the bottom of the toolbar and choose a swatch.
As far as I'm aware, there is no way to use the eyedropper tool in any way, shape, or form, if you have highlighted text.
This is what you accidentally did; you held the command (control on a PC) key down and you click on the text path and that selected the path you still still have the text field active and the Text tool available so you cans still highlight text if you want.
But if you do not highlight the text but simply hit the I key then you get the eyedropper tool, s the short cut for the eyedropper i the I key and not command or control + I. You then hit the T key and the text tool is back and you do not have to reselect your text.
I see you must be on a PC so substitute the control key for the command key.