On a day when thoughts turn to all things Irish, the question invariably arises, “What makes it an Irish Breakfast Tea?” As it turns out, Kat read me the most interesting interview by TheKitchn.com with Frank Sanchez of Upton Tea Imports. In it, he explains the evolution of today’s common “Breakfast” blends, notably English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast and Scottish Breakfast teas.
According to Sanchez, due to the ongoing importing of tea from China in the 17th and 18th centuries, the British people had developed a liking to the strong tea. The first English Breakfast Tea was a China congou, a Chinese black tea made with careful skill, “gongfu,” to produce thin, tight strips without breaking the leaves. With the onset of the Opium Wars in the mid 1800’s, near disaster was averted (in the eyes of the tea drinker) because the new British tea estates in India were now able to import teas to replace the Chinese tea imports that had come to a halt. As the supply of Chinese tea decreased and the supply of Indian tea increased, these two were blended. The result was a more robust flavor profile, which was very well received! As Sri Lanka (known more commonly in the tea community as Ceylon) began producing teas, this component was added into the blend creating the English Breakfast tea characteristics that we enjoy today.
Mr. Sanchez theorizes that as tea rose in popularity in Ireland, that may have coincided with an increase in imports of Assam teas. As a result, the tea blends most commonly found in Ireland had a stronger Assam component, with a deeper reddish color and a stronger, more robust and malty flavor.
As for Scottish Breakfast blends, these are traditionally the strongest, and what Sanchez refers to as the “heartiest” of all. One reason for this, which I found fascinating (and must find out more!) was that during that period of time, tea blends were often developed based on the type of water available in a particular region. Therefore, because Scotland tended to have “softer” water, the tea blends developed were of the strongest variety.
I find it interesting that both Char and Kat both lean toward Irish Breakfast Teas when they had the choice. But then, they both particularly enjoy Assam teas (as do I!). In fact, Kat’s been drinking the Trader Joe’s Original Irish Breakfast tea today. The bold, hearty Assam is complimented beautifully with Kenyan teas. The result is a smooth, malty, substantial tea that most certainly will get you going in the morning – or anytime during the day!
Which breakfast blend do you lean toward?