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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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