I don’t drink tea to wake up. I wake up to drink tea. 

Is there anything more invigorating, comforting and refreshing first thing in the morning than a hot cup of Tea? The quote above says it all. Do I wake to drink Tea, or does Tea wake me up? There is a fine line between the two at times, and like coffee drinkers, tea drinkers love the caffeine kickstart to the day.

The Breakfast, Art Painting by Edward Cucuel

Breakfast tea is known to have that sought after high caffeine content and is one of the most popular teas for early morning. But wait, there are many to choose from; English Breakfast Tea, Irish Breakfast, Scottish Breakfast tea, and many other black teas.
What is Breakfast Tea, and what is the difference between English, Irish and Scottish Breakfast tea?

“For me starting the day without a pot of tea would be a day forever out of kilter.”
Bill Drummond

A Spot of English Breakfast” Oils on Canvas Paul Allan

Breakfast Tea is a blended black tea with a strong, full-bodied flavour. It is readily available in supermarkets, online and in cafes and teashops. Almost every tea brand on the market has a favourite breakfast tea secret recipe or blend. The taste of Breakfast tea varies, and some brands are more aromatic and malty than others. In essence, though, it is a strong type of tea that can withstand the addition of milk and, if so desired, sugar.

“There are few nicer things than sitting up in bed, drinking strong tea, and reading.”
Alan Clark

Large kettle painting by By Maurice Louis Monnot.

When out in a cafe or tearoom I often order English Breakfast tea simply because you know where you are with this one. It’s a basic strong black tea that is not floral or scented and does not taste like grass or herbs like some teas.

English Breakfast Tea Watercolour and coloured pencil on paper    Peter Aitkens

Breakfast tea blends are made from Keemun and Oolong black Teas from China, and this provides a deep rich base flavour. Assam Tea from India gives a malty flavour, Ceylon Tea from Sri Lanka adds a bold briskness, and Darjeeling Tea from India provide a sweet musky taste. It is designed to be consistent across harvests and blended to give an invigorating morning cup of Tea.

The first cup moistens my lips and throat. The second shatters my loneliness. The third causes the wrongs of life to fade gently from my recollection. The fourth purifies my soul. The fifth lifts me to the realms of the unwinking gods
Chinese Mystic, Tang Dynasty

At Breakfast – Lauritz Andersen Ring 1854 – 1933 Swedish National Museum

What we know as English Breakfast Tea is believed to have originated from Scotland, which the English naturally debate. The Scottish Tea purveyor Robert Drysdale in 1892 was given credit for labelling the Tea as Breakfast tea so it would be drunk with the first meal of the day. At this time in history, breakfast was a heavy meal of meats and rich, savoury dishes. So a robust Tea to be drunk with milk and sugar was a more suitable beverage.

Noah Verrier English Breakfast Tea

Then again, some stories claim the tea merchant Richard Davies an English immigrant invented the English Breakfast Tea in New York in 1843. The story is he wanted to make Tea that could be available all year round and would also use the leftover leaves in the tea blend. He combined different loose leaf China Teas from tea estates in other countries; Sri Lanka, India, and China blended them to create the now-famous Breakfast Tea.

Giuseppe De Nittis – Breakfast in the Garden Wikicommons

Tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country.”
George Orwell

Tea was at this time expensive and usually reserved for the afternoon. When Tea was more available and the prices began to go down, it could be enjoyed more throughout the day. Ann Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland, between 1702 and 1707, evidently, started to take Tea instead of ale as her morning drink, which began a fashion for Tea at breakfast. History also records that the entrepreneurial skills of Robert Drysdale, who saw an opportunity to market a strong Tea, were the beginning of the ubiquitous Breakfast tea we have today. So whether the credit is due to royalty, a business deal or a Scottish merchant in New York, the trend for a substantial breakfast tea has stood the test of time. Twinings alone have been making English Breakfast Tea for 300 years.

Tea Time Christopher Vidal

“As far as her mom was concerned, tea fixed everything. Have a cold? Have some tea. Broken bones? There’s a tea for that too. Somewhere in her mother’s pantry, Laurel suspected, was a box of tea that said, ‘In case of Armageddon, steep three to five minutes’.”
Aprilynne Pike

Queen Victoria was thought to have tasted Robert Drysdales tea blend when visiting Balmoral Castle in 1892 and returned with the Tea to England. It became a popular Tea blend named English Breakfast. Naturally, other tea merchants followed the trend. They began producing their breakfast teas suited to the local region’s taste, so we have Irish Breakfast, Scottish Breakfast, and Yorkshire blend (my favourite). So whatever historical facts are the truth of the origins of English Breakfast tea, it is now a reliable black tea that is available everywhere. However, unlike French wine blends, there are no strict blending rules, so the strength and flavour will vary significantly from brand to brand.

I am a hardened and shameless tea drinker, who has for twenty years diluted his meals only with the infusion of this fascinating plant; whose kettle has scarcely time to cool; who with tea amuses the evening, with tea solaces the midnight, and with tea welcomes the morning.
Samuel Johnson

Still Life of Kettle and Radishes -Maurice Louis Monnot

English Breakfast Tea is made chiefly from Indian and Ceylon tea leaves and has a brisk astringency, and robust flavour yet is the lightest compared to Irish or Scottish Breakfast Tea.

Vintage Tea Postcard

Irish Breakfast Tea is a bolder black tea blend, more robust and perhaps not quite as refined as English breakfast. It is has a reddish hue and a rich, strong malty flavour because it is made from Assam tea leaves from India as the primary base. The processing of the tea leaves before being packaged also changes the taste. In Irish breakfast tea, the leaves are broken, then dried and lightly crushed, allowing the Tea to steep rapidly and release more flavour.

Breakfast Tea Art Deborah Chabrian

Tea in Ireland began in the 1800s when Tea was imported from England, often cheaper or lower-quality tea. The Irish added large amounts of milk, even as much as a third of a cup, to improve the taste, and they liked their Tea strong. In Ireland, the custom of strong Tea continues today, but they are no longer reliant on English Tea companies. Since the 1960s, Irish tea companies began importing their Tea straight from the source in India. Hence Irish Breakfast Tea, with its high tannin level from the Assam tea leaves blended with the light Ceylon tea from Sri Lanka, can withstand lots of milk.

Genevieve Rogers Breakfast tea 1956

Scottish Breakfast Tea is more potent than English breakfast with leaves from Kenya, Indonesia, China and India. It was created for Scottish water to counteract a dull infusion from the soft water. 

A Breakfast Tea -Samuel Shelton

The Yorkshire Tea, Although not called Breakfast Tea, Yorkshire Tea is a similar blend creating a full-bodied brew and robust flavour. It originally was made to offset the high mineral content of Yorkshire water.

Annie Rose Laing – A Helensburgh breakfast

All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that.
George Orwell

The Breakfast Table 1936 — Pierre Bonnar

Our English Breakfast Tea today has a flavour profile dependant on caffeine that comes from the broken tea leaves and sometimes the fannings that will quickly brew to a robust, bold, strong tea unlike Darjeeling, Oolong, Orange Pekoe or Earl Grey that take longer to brew. Caffeine levels will vary depending on how you make the Tea but will be around 30-60 mg per cup. Most brands will offer a caffeine-free version.

Breakfast In Bed – Mary Cassat

Time to put the kettle on now and too late in the day for a robust Scottish tea so perhaps time to taste a new tea. A Darjeeling First Flush from Elmstock. They describe the tea as

” a rare and fine tea from the famous plantation established in 1855. A clonal tea, grown at an altitude of over 1500 metres on the Upper Namring estate, it contains downy silver tips. This great tea is much sought after and in great demand.”  

The magic of any tea; breakfast, afternoon or specialty is its ability to make one feel refreshed, invigorated and at the same time comforted, calm and rested. Quite remarkable really.

Title Quote by Laurits Andersen

Content Di Baker 2021

Artworks as cited and top image Tea and Toast -Noah Verrier

3 thoughts on “I don’t drink tea to wake up. I wake up to drink tea. 

  1. My teenage boy does not understand how comforting a goof cup of tea can be but that i perhaps due to coffee being the beverage of choice when it comes down to the crunch.

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