Have you ever sat down to a cup of hot, energizing breakfast tea and wondered what the heck makes it a breakfast blend? You never see anyone selling lunch teas or dinner teas. Why breakfast tea? And what’s the difference between Scottish, Irish, and English breakfast teas? Let me explain!
When we first get up in the morning, most of us aren’t in the mood for something delicate, flowery, and subtle. We want caffeine and we want it now! And by golly, we want to be able to taste it! Breakfast, as any nutritionist will tell you, is the most important meal of the day. You probably haven’t eaten in ten or twelve hours, and you need energy for your morning work. A full-flavored hearty breakfast will overwhelm the taste of a white tea or a jasmine tea, so Americans and Europeans, unlike our Eastern friends, usually go for a black tea (or perhaps a heavily-oxidized oolong) with our breakfast. This is the origin of the “breakfast tea.”
Breakfast teas in the U.K. were originally Chinese tea. When supplies from China were threatened and the British East India Company established tea plantations in Assam, those Indian teas began to replace the Chinese teas at breakfast, and that’s also when they started to become blends rather than straight tea. One of the words you’ll often hear to describe breakfast teas is “malty.” That flavor comes from the Assam teas. Their isn’t a standard formula for any breakfast tea, and no two tea producers will agree on the perfect teas or the perfect blend percentages. Generally, though, the Assam is blended with a strong traditional black tea from Sri Lanka (a Ceylon tea) or Kenya. Some blends are simple combinations of two base teas; some are complex combinations of four or five.
There also isn’t a standard for strength. Generally, though, you can assume that Scottish and Irish breakfast teas will be stronger than English breakfast teas, and when you’re in the U.K., you can count on all of them being served with milk.
An American might start the day with biscuits and sausage gravy with an egg on top — or perhaps a big stack of pancakes. A Scotsman, however, may sit down to a “full breakfast,” which would include eggs, bacon (what an American would call “Canadian bacon” and a Canadian would call “back bacon”), toast, sausage, black pudding, grilled tomato, and — if he’s lucky — some haggis and tattie scones. No wimpy tea will work with a meal like that! It calls for a full pot of Scottish breakfast tea!
At my tea bar, I started out with stock blends for all three breakfast teas. Soon, though, my Scottish heritage gave me the urge to experiment. I’ve known the folks from the Khongea Estate in Assam for a while, and they have a variety that made the perfect start. Lots of malty flavor, lots of caffeine, but not too much astringency. Unlike my ancestors, you see, I don’t put milk in my tea, so I look for less bitterness than most Scots.
After playing around with other teas, I settled on another estate-grown variety as the second ingredient. It’s a fairly high-altitude tea that grows near the base of Mount Kenya. It adds strength and complexity to the Assam, and I decided no other ingredients were needed. Once I was happy with the flavor, I needed a name. Scottish Breakfast Tea is just a bit too boring for me, so I called it “Gary’s Kilty Pleasure.”
For the curious, that’s my plaid in the logo: the Clan Gunn weathered tartan.
I got a very big surprise from this tea. American tea tastes run toward flavored teas. The majority of sales at my tea bar are Earl Grey, masala chai, fruity blends, and the like. Despite that, Gary’s Kilty Pleasure has remained one of the top five sellers for four straight years, out of a field of well over 100 loose teas. The most common comment I get back is that it goes well with milk, but it is perfectly good without — and that makes me happy!
So whether you choose my Scottish breakfast tea (buy it here) or a blend from your favorite supplier, brew it up strong with a hearty breakfast, and get your day off to a great start!
I have started adding a paragraph at the end of each blog post describing the tea I was drinking when I wrote the post. It seems kind of silly at the end of this one! Come on, people. What do you THINK I was drinking?
If my tea bar was in Georgia, sweet tea wouldn’t be a problem for me. I would always have a pitcher or two sitting in the fridge. But here in Montana, the demand for sweet tea is pretty low. If I serve three or four glasses of sweet tea in a week, that’s a lot. Why is that a problem? Because properly-prepared sweet tea is made in advance. Ideally, it should sit overnight, but a few hours is probably okay. It will keep for a little while, but not indefinitely. If I make it by the pitcher, I’m going to end up throwing away most of it.
My goals are simple: I want it to taste like sweet tea (in the opinion of my Southern friends), and I have to be able to prepare it from scratch in about five minutes.
I’ve been fiddling with solutions to the problem, and I think I’ve come up with an acceptable solution. My method is based on my 20-ounce iced tea glasses, my ice machine (which makes very small cubes), and various other things specific to Red Lodge Books & Tea. Obviously, you’ll need to tweak it a bit for your own use.
For sweetening iced teas (especially boba tea), I keep simple syrup on hand all of the time. We make it using equal quantities of boiling water and plain sugar, and then cool it down to room temperature. It’s much easier than trying to mix granulated sugar into cold tea.
First, I add a tablespoon of strong black tea to the infuser — I use our Irish Breakfast Tea, which is a blend of Assam and Tanzanian tea. The leaves are finely broken, which maximizes the surface area for steeping.
To the leaves, I add four tablespoons of simple syrup and about 10oz of boiling water. I suppose I could use some alternate method for sweetening the tea, but I have never heard a request for diet sweet tea. If it’s not real sweet tea with sugar, it’s just sweetened tea, I suppose.
While it is steeping, I fill the glass all the way to the brim with ice.
I steep the tea for five minutes. I would never steep a cup of Irish breakfast tea that long for myself — especially with that much leaf — because I’m a bit of a purist and I don’t add milk or sugar. Steeping that long makes plain tea very bitter. Using this much sugar, however, offsets that bitterness, and adding it to during the steep makes the tea taste different than if it’s added after the fact.
When the tea is poured over the ice, most of the ice will melt. Add a straw and you’re good to go.
Looking for something pithy and educational about tea today? Well, you picked the wrong blog post. Today I am just posting a free association of recent observations and happenings at the my tea bar.
Never give up. Never surrender.
I love pu-erh tea. I have far more of it in the tea bar than our local population can justify, especially if you include the “dark tea,” which is tea fermented like a pu-erh but not produced in Yunnan. I have grown used to having to explain pu-erh to every person I mention it to. It’s part of the education mission of the tea world.
Then, one of my regulars brought in a friend from out of town. He bought a quarter-pound each of Irish Breakfast and my own Scottish Breakfast blend (which I call “Gary’s Kilty Pleasure”). He asked for something different, and I asked if he’d tried pu-erh. He knew what it was! He liked it! We probably spent 15 minutes talking about pu-erh and he bought a tuo-cha (bird’s nest shaped pu-erh cake) and some loose pu-erh. The education efforts of tea shops around the country are paying off!
I hate cheap equipment.
Some of the equipment in the tea bar has worked beautifully since the day we bought it. Some has been a source of endless frustration.
The milk heater/frother units we got from Keurig? One broke in just over 3 months, the other in just under a year. Fragile parts, hard to clean, cheap construction. The ones we got from a company I’d never heard of? Both working beautifully.
Tea timers? I suppose it’s not the manufacturer’s fault that we drop them from time to time. But some timers survive multiple drops and some die after the first.
Frothing wands? I just had to deal with our third dead wand in a year. They really should last more than six months. This just isn’t acceptable.
Never put out pressed tea samples
Found this out the hard way. One of our distributors carries these wonderful little pressed hearts of tea they call Antony & Cleopatra. I thought it was a cool novelty idea and ordered a pound of them. They’re black tea, not a pu-erh like most pressed teas. They are actually halfway decent black tea, which makes them better than just a novelty item. Just drop it in the teapot, pour in boiling water, and in a few minutes you have a cup of tea.
I put a big jar of them (sealed, of course) on the tea bar and a little plate (actually a cute little teapot-shaped teabag holder) in front of the jar with some of the tea hearts on it. Can anyone guess what happened? Anyone? Bueller? Yeah, that’s right. People ate them. Apparently compressed tea leaves make pretty yucky-tasting cookies. Who’d have guessed?
Bleach is your friend
Ever hear commercials for cleaning products that say “even gets out tough tea stains?” There’s a reason for that. Tea stains everything, especially infusers, filters, and teapots. Luckily, a tablespoon of bleach in a pint of water will get rid of all those tea stains in no time flat. Of course, you’ll be rinsing the bleach smell out for a little while, but it’s worth it. Sparkly clean!
Everybody thinks lattes have to have coffee in them
“Latte” is used in English as a short form of the Italian “caffè latte,” which simply means “coffee with milk.” Other drinks can have milk in them, too. Tea lattes are absolutely wonderful drinks. Generally speaking, they have two ingredients: tea and heated/frothed milk. Sometimes a sweetener. So why is it that people keep asking what kind of coffee we add to our tea lattes? They aren’t tea caffè lattes. They are tea lattes.
There. I feel better now.