Anyone else take extra days off for the Fourth of July “weekend”? This morning’s de facto Monday necessitated a stiff breakfast tea. Really stiff. Sort of a jolt back to reality.
But this isn’t really why “breakfast teas” exist.
Rather, these tea blends were designed to accompany the heavy breakfasts of late-1800s-England—a meal perhaps more akin to our idea of brunch. Because you would definitely need a robust tea blend to hold up against the “beef, pork and bread (and often beer)”* served up first thing in the morning!
But even though “English Breakfast Tea” springs immediately to mind, the morning tea idea first began in Scotland, when tea master Mr. Drysdale marketed his own blend as “Breakfast Tea.”*
This strong brew may actually have been due to the soft water in Scotland. According to Frank Sanchez of Upton Tea Imports,†
back in the day teas were blended specifically for the water conditions in the areas in which they were marketed and consumed. . . . It’s conjecture, but perhaps the water in Scotland demanded a stronger tea.
Regardless, the English jumped on the idea and made it their own with “English Breakfast Tea.” And because the strong black tea blends hold up well to milk, these teas were—and still are—traditionally drunk with milk.
The blend of teas used was flexible, and heavily depended on what teas were available at the time. The first versions would have used Chinese black tea. However, during the Opium Wars in the 1800s, the Brits looked to Assam, India, where they had begun growing tea, and they started adding Assam to the Chinese tea. When tea from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) became available, they tossed that into the mix.
Today, English breakfast teas may include robust black teas from Kenya and/or Indonesia as well, and every vendor will have their own particular blend.
Pictured here is the English Breakfast Tea sold at TeaHaus, a combination of Ceylon, Assam, Java, and Darjeeling teas. The Assam contributes maltiness, the Ceylon brightness.
When the Darjeeling is omitted, you get a version that is yet more stiff and brisk, i.e, TeaHaus’ English Westminster. Shades of Keep Calm and Carry On are found in its crisp, bold brew.
Next up: Irish and Russian breakfast teas. Because the English don’t corner the market on breakfast blends!
*Chavey, E. “All breakfast all the time,” mrbreakfast.com, accessed 7/5/17.
†Han, E. “What’s the difference between English, Irish, and Scottish breakfast teas?” The Kitchn, April 7, 2014.
Note: English Breakfast and English Westminster teas shown here are available at TeaHaus.com.