Difference Between English Scottish Irish Breakfast Teas Explained

Jamie Thompson on Irish Breakfast Tea



Clues about how most teas taste are in the name.  Earl Grey, Green Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Camomile, Red Berry all tell how the tea will taste. What about breakfast varieties such as English Breakfast TeaIrish Breakfast Tea or Scottish Breakfast Tea?  What is the difference in the way these varieties taste? It is even harder to determine since these varieties use the same tea leaves.

Here is your complete guide to the differences between English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast and Scottish Breakfast Teas.  Although you can find many English Teas, Irish Teas or Scottish Teas, we are only covering breakfast varieties.

Breakfast is the single largest category of tea.  But what makes up a breakfast tea? Typically, it is a hearty black tea that provides a jolt to get your day started.   

Originally, breakfast teas contained Keemun tea leaves.  Keemun, a black tea from China, added a lighter but slightly smoky flavor. Today, most tea makers have gotten away from using Keemun in a breakfast tea.  A single formula for making each variety of breakfast tea does not exist. 

Classic breakfast teas are always black tea. You may have some herbal varieties that say breakfast but these are not real breakfast teas. True breakfast teas all brew a similar color. However, the taste of a tea cannot be based on how quickly it turns dark. Some lesser teas use tea dust to change the color very quickly. Other more premium varieties brew a very light, brown color. 

Most breakfast teas are characterized as full-bodied. What does full-bodied really mean?  Taste is subjective so you may consider a light tea to be full-bodied. Generally, full-bodied means a strong tea with a good color that is not bitter. 

Most tea brands make breakfast teas by blending tea leaves from different regions to produce a specific taste. Although most breakfast tea are blends, a few unique varieties are from one region, known as single-origin.   

British and Irish tea makers usually blend tea leaves from East Africa, typically Kenyan, with Indian, often Assam, and Ceylon from Sri Lanka. Emphasizing one tea over the others, such as Assam, changes the taste.  Suppose you want to make a chocolate dessert that calls for 1 cup of cocoa powder. If you only used ⅛ cup or decided to use 2 cups, the dessert would taste drastically different.  Breakfast Teas work the same way.

English Breakfast 

English Breakfast is the most popular breakfast tea. Even the teas just labeled breakfast are usually this variety.  Its origin is attributed to Queen Victoria in 1892. This specific blend was invented in Edinburgh, Scotland, by tea master Robert Drysdale. Queen Victoria, partial to all things Scottish, popularized the blend and it became known as English Breakfast. Tea companies all over the world have put their spin on this blend.

"English Breakfast Tea is the lightest of the varieties while Irish Breakfast is the strongest and Scottish Breakfast is in the middle," says Paul Gerst, founder of teadog.com.  "If you dont like a stong breakfast tea or one with a malty flavor then English Breakfast Tea is for you," stated Gerst.

Dating back to the 1800s and holding a UK Royal Warrant, Darvilles of Windsor is one of England's preeminent tea makers.  Darvilles English Breakfast is considered a classic.  The company blends Assam, Kenya and Ceylon tea leaves.  

Another English Tea maker, Whittard of Chelsea, blends the same tea leaves. Even though these tea makers use the same leaves making the same tea, English Breakfast, both varieties taste different. 

Although most varieties are blends, each tea maker is different. Cartwright & Butler, from England’s Yorkshire region, uses only Ceylon tea leaves. Williamson Tea makes a variety that only uses tea leaves from Kenya, where their tea estate is located. Williamson Teas are known for being free of pesticides or chemicals and their variety is an award-winner.  


Jamie Thompson on why Irish Breakfast Tea is best


Irish Breakfast

Irish Breakfast Tea has a bolder taste than either English or Scottish breakfast tea. It will be the strongest of the three varieties.  For many tea drinkers in the US, Irish Breakfast tea may hold the most appeal since many prefer a stronger black tea.

Typically, Irish Breakfast Tea blends the same tea leaves as English Breakfast. But, it has more Assam than the others. Assam adds a bold and malty flavor to the blend.  Assam Tea are high in tannin and can sometime taste a bit better.  Assam is considered to to be the tea you would drink if you actually wanted a coffee. 

Kenyan tea leaves play an important role in many Irish Breakfast Teas.  "Our Irish Breakfast also contains tea from some select and highly sought-after gardens in Kenya. The tea leaves that offer superior taste and flavor are to be found East of the Great Rift Valley, and it is from this location that we insist on sourcing," says Jamie Thompson of Thompson's Family Tea, which is located in Belfast. 

Even tea companies located in Ireland have produced Irish Breakfast Tea. Barrys Tea of Cork, Bewleys Tea of Dublin and Thompsons Family Tea all make an Irish Breakfast Tea. Irish Breakfast Teas from Bewleys and Thompsons Family Tea have won gold star awards from the Guild of Fine Foods.  

Known as the Food Oscars, the Guild of Fine Foods holds the yearly Great Taste Awards.  The top honor is 3 Gold Stars, which is awarded after 5 rounds of taste testing from food industry experts.  "This honor goes to less than 2% of all entries, and in 2016, Thompson’s Irish Breakfast was awarded 3 Gold Stars for its beautiful blend of Assam and Kenyan leaves," says Jamie Thompson.  

Just as with English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast Teas all taste slightly different. Barrys Irish Breakfast has a lighter and more subtle flavor than Bewleys, which has a creamy, malty flavor and full-bodied taste. To produce this tea, Bewleys blends teas from India, specifically Assam and Darjeeling.

Meanwhile, Thompsons Irish Breakfast has a strong flavor. Thompsons blends Assam with with teas from Kenya to produce a bright, full-flavored tea.  A luxurious tea, Thompson's Irish Breakfast has, "a rich, rounded character, thanks to Assam’s finest leaves picked only during peak quality periods before being vacuum-packed to preserve freshness.  These are blended with teas from the high-grown slopes of Mount Kenya, producing a bright, full-flavored infusion with a fresh finish," says Jamie Thompson.  


Richard Branson on English Breakfast Tea


Scottish Breakfast 

Strength-wise, Scottish Breakfast Tea is midway between English and Irish Breakfast.  The most uncommon variety of breakfast tea, the teas are full bodied and have a malty flavor. Typically, Scottish Breakfast mixes Assam and Kenyan tea. Originally, the teas were blended to taste best with Scotland’s soft water.

Thompsons blends the same varieties to make their Irish Breakfast as others do to make Scottish Breakfast, which demonstrates that the way the teas are mixed produces the specific taste.

Scottish Breakfast Tea is often described as having a malty flavor.  Malty usually refers to a baked bread type of flavor.  You can think about the flavor in a malted milkshare. 

Brodies Teas and Edinburgh Tea & Coffee company both make some of the leading Scottish Breakfast Teas. Brodies blends Assam and Kenyan while Edinburgh Tea added Ceylon tea to the Africa and India teas.

How can you determine which breakfast tea you will like best? Taste each variety without milk or sugar. By doing this, you will really determine what the tea tastes like.

But no matter what the flavor, just drink the tea you enjoy.

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

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