English Breakfast is a black tea blend popular the world over for making a strong and satisfying cuppa. Most quality modern blends are based around the classic combination of Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan black teas, which work harmoniously together to deliver a rich, robust and rounded flavour. Typically, the Assam provides a bold and malty base, while the Ceylon addd fresh briskness and the Kenyan tea rounds things off with its robust strength.
As the name suggests, English Breakfast is a blend that found its fame in England and remains the number one choice of Great British tea drinkers. English Breakfast teas can range from simple, teabag blends to elite loose-leaf varieties created by the world's most accomplished tea masters. In addition to the teas mentioned above, some expressions may also feature teas from Keemum or Yunnan in China, Rwanda and Malawi in Africa, as well as other interesting lesser-known regions.
Why is it called 'English Breakfast' tea?
The origins of the name English Breakfast tea are a little fuzzy (similar to one's morning self before drinking that first cup of the day!). Although strong black teas have been sipped in the morning for centuries, some accounts place the birth of this beloved blend in colonial America, while popular opinion regards Queen Victoria as responsible for making English Breakfast tea the household name it is today. It's said the long-reigning monarch tasted a wondrous 'breakfast tea' while visiting Balmoral in the late 19th century and was so taken by the tea that she returned to London with it proudly in her possession. Subsequently – and somewhat controversially – the name lengthened to 'English Breakfast' as demand for the fine new drink flourished.
A less regal explanation lies with an Englishman named Richard Davies. A commerce article from 1843 states that Davies – a tea merchant based in New York City – created a successful blend of Congou, Pouchong and Pekoe teas, named 'English Breakfast'. While these are now far from the ingredients we associate with the tea's modern namesakes, it's possible that Davies' success inspired other tea merchants to create their own versions and the English Breakfast evolution commenced. While we cannot pinpoint exactly when, where and how this famous blend came about, we know it's firmly placed in the hearts of tea-drinkers around the world today.
How is English Breakfast tea made?
The character of an English Breakfast tea is decided by the choice of teas: where they're from, how they're processed and the ratios used. While there are myriad techniques and variations used in tea gardens and tea factories around the world, the black teas in an English Breakfast blend will typically have been picked, dried, rolled, oxidised and 'fixed' with heat to lock in flavour. This process is lengthy and takes skill and precision. In the more traditional 'orthodox' process, extra care and attention is required to keep the tea leaves intact. These are the teas you'll find in loose leaf blends.
Beyond the processing, the key to a great English Breakfast lies with the tea master who assembles the blend. These expert tea makers will assess each of the teas at their disposal and try different combinations to find a brew that is distinguished, satisfying and offers the quintessential English Breakfast character. Once the blend is decided upon, the real skill comes in keeping this character consistent over the years, adjusting and reacting to the fluctuations in tea harvests and seasons. This is the real craft of the tea blender, one that is often misunderstood by consumers and connoisseurs alike.
How to enjoy English Breakfast tea
English Breakfast tea is best brewed strong with boiling water, then softened with a splash of milk to serve. If steeping the tea in a cup or mug, add the milk after the tea has brewed. If making it in a pot, milk can be added to the cup before or after the tea is poured. In a pot, allow one teaspoon of tea per person, plus one for the pot, and let the tea steep for 3-5 minutes, before stirring and pouring. On cold days, it's a good idea to warm your teapot first, so the temperature of the water doesn't fall too quickly.
For those who like the sweeter things in life, a teaspoon of sugar or honey can be added to English Breakfast tea to make it even more satisfying. The invigorating effects of the black teas are ideal for helping to wake you up first thing, and the bold hearty flavours make it a perfect accompaniment to breakfast, especially a 'full English'. While black tea has quite a high caffeine content and you probably wouldn't want to drink it before bed, English Breakfast tea can be enjoyed throughout the day, and is particularly good in the afternoon as a reviving pick-me-up.
Create your own English Breakfast blend
Here at Galerie du Thé we travel to the world's finest unsung tea gardens to source the very best loose leaf teas. We always aim to put the skill and dedication of the growers centre stage and to bring their handcrafted produce to the world. So while most of the teas we sell are single-estate and therefore unblended, we'll always be experimenters at heart. In the spirit of learning and understanding all there is to know about tea, we thought it might be fun to suggest a little experiment…
Why not craft your own English Breakfast tea blend by combining three of our special single estate black teas? You can adjust the quantities of each to suit your own taste, and in so doing you'll really get to the bottom of what makes a fine English Breakfast blend. The three teas we'd recommend starting with are:
Golden River – a superior second-flush Assam from the Bukhial estate,
Kandy Heights – an exemplary mid-grown Ceylon from the Craighead estate,
Kirimara Sunrise – a limited edition tea with an exotically smoky complexity from the lush slopes of Mount Kenya.
Try each of these blends on their own to recognise and appreciate their different flavour profiles, then bring them together to find your perfect English Breakfast tea. For instance, you could combine one teaspoon of Golden River with half a teaspoon each of Kandy Heights and Kirimara Sunrise to create a blend with a classic rich Assam backdrop accented by the brighter Ceylon and more exotic Kenyan teas.
At Galerie du Thé it is always our passion to explore, enjoy and share fine tea. Join us on this journey and let's unlock the mysteries of the tea leaves together. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below…