English Breakfast Tea is a traditional black tea blend that is widely consumed in England, the US and beyond.
The Most Popular Tea in the UK
English Breakfast blends are considered to be the most popular type of tea in the UK, with consumption outranking that of Earl Grey. Furthermore, English Breakfast is considered to be the most recognized tea blend in the UK.
Breakfast Teas were originally popularized by Queen Victoria in the late 1800s.
In more recent times, English Breakfast blends saw a surge in international popularity due to some name-dropping in the popular "50 Shades of Grey" series of books.
A "Wake-Me-Up" Blend
English Breakfast Tea is known for its bold flavor and its relatively high caffeine level. The flavor is often described as rich, robust, full-bodied and (sometimes) malty or brisk. The relatively high caffeine level comes from the Camellia sinensis v. assamica tea varietal, which is naturally higher in caffeine than the Camellia sinensis v. sinensis plant grown in much of China, Japan and Taiwan.
Both of these characteristics make English Breakfast Tea an ideal morning-time tea. It was originally a breakfast tea only, but these days it is drunk throughout the day in the UK and elsewhere (though mainly at breakfast).
The Origins of English Breakfast Tea
There is some contention over the origins of English Breakfast Tea, with some claiming that the blend originated in Scotland and others saying it was first dubbed "English Breakfast Tea" in New York City, where it was made with "pouchong oolong" from China in addition to a melange of black teas.
However, most sources I've interviewed agree that it was originally developed in England and was originally a blend of so-called "Colonial Teas"--teas from Assam (in India), from Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) and from East African colonies (originally Kenya, then also Malawi and other countries as tea production spread).
These bold black tea blends from British colonies were originally known simply as "Breakfast Tea". Today, they are often known internationally as "English Breakfast Tea". In the UK they are often referred to primarily by their brand names, such as Twinings, PG Tips, Dilmah, Typhoo or Yorkshire Tea, with or without the term "Breakfast Tea" attached.
What's in English Breakfast Blends?
Early English Breakfasts probably included only Colonial Teas, like Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan black teas. Today, one can also find other black teas in many English Breakfast blends. These include Keemun black tea (usually in more expensive blends), Vietnamese black teas (sometimes found in Twinings and other brands takes on the blend), Indonesian black teas and up to 50 percent African black teas (usually from Kenya, but also from countries such as Malawi, Rwanda and Tanzania).
Kenyan teas and some other African teas are used to give English Breakfast Tea a deep red color in the cup, and in some cases, they also cut the cost of producing English Breakfast.
Brewing & Drinking English Breakfast Teas
English Breakfast blends are widely available in loose-leaf and teabag form. They are brewed with water fresh off the boil, and may be steeped anywhere from a mere moment to five minutes or even longer, depending on personal preference. (I've often heard tales of people who dunk a teabag into a cup of just-boiled water and remove it immediately for the "perfect cuppa".)
For loose-leaf English Breakfast Tea, the usual ratio of tea leaf to water is one teaspoon per cup. If preparing a teapot of English Breakfast, many British people often use one teaspoon per cup, plus one for the pot (so a pot serving four cups would need five teaspoons of tea).
The bold flavor of English Breakfast Tea makes it a great candidate for adding milk and / or sugar. It's common to add one or both to your tea. In fact, according to William Gorman, executive chairman of the UK Tea Council, 98 percent of British teas are taken with milk, and English Breakfast is no exception. Adding milk and / or sugar mellows the otherwise strong flavor of English Breakfast Tea.
As the name suggests, English Breakfast is often drunk with breakfast. Typical English breakfast fare includes bacon, eggs, toast and marmalade, sausages, grilled tomato and, of course, tea. It may also include other heavy items, such as baked beans, fried bread and / or black pudding.
Irish Breakfast Tea is similar in flavor to English Breakfast, but it is made with more Assam tea. This often makes it maltier and less brisk than English Breakfast.
Scottish Breakfast Tea is also similar to English Breakfast, but it may include fewer teas from places other than Sri Lanka and Assam. It is often even richer and bolder than English Breakfast Tea, and many people in Scotland brew their Scottish Breakfast tea quite light or add more milk to compensate for this boldness.