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What’s the Difference Between English, Irish and Scottish Breakfast Tea?

Breakfast tea is a great morning substitute for people who don’t love coffee. However, there are so many different varieties that it can be hard to decide which one is the right one for you.

The main difference between English, Irish, and Scottish breakfast teas is the flavor components. Some breakfast teas have a more robust, full-bodied flavor, while others are more subtle. The other big difference between these types of teas is how they’re enjoyed and what accompanies them. 

In this article, you’ll learn what distinguishes one country’s breakfast tea from the other. In addition, you’ll learn why they’re so different and the best ways to enjoy them. Keep reading to learn more if you’re searching for an “authentic” breakfast tea experience.

Breakfast Teas are the Same Blend

Though English, Irish, and Scottish breakfast teas do have their fair share of differences, they all do share one common ancestor: black tea. Breakfast teas of essentially any kind will be black-tea-based. 

Black tea brings a more powerful flavor than other types of tea, even without additives. Most people will use breakfast teas in conjunction with a big breakfast to help them feel fuller before they start their day. In addition, black tea contains more caffeine than something like green tea, which makes it a better substitute for coffee and provides the boost many need to start their day. 

However, not all breakfast teas are created equal.

English Breakfast Tea 

English breakfast tea is the most common variation in the US and many other parts of the world. Along with a complex flavor profile, the English breakfast blend many know and enjoy daily has a more complex history than the other breakfast teas. 

Is English Breakfast Tea Actually English?

The short answer for this is no. English breakfast tea as we know it did not originate in England, and the most distinguishing flavor components of the blend are not things that come from England, either. Rather, most parts of English breakfast tea are said to have roots in Asia.

The reason it’s called English breakfast tea is that in the seventeenth century, the tea was endorsed by Charles II’s wife, Catherine of Braganza, when she brought it on one of her voyages and shared it among the royals. Legend has it that Queen Anne herself opted for tea over a standard ale during breakfast time. Thus began its rise to popularity as a breakfast item, especially among her subjects. 

English breakfast tea is actually suspected of having originated in Scotland when a man called Robert Drysdale developed it to combat the heaviness of a traditional breakfast. When Queen Victoria had some during a stay at Balmoral, she took a liking to the blend. On the back of rising popularity among English citizens, the tea was dubbed English breakfast tea.

The Flavor 

Tea has components, which are just the different leaves and occasional spices that end up in the sachet, and English breakfast blends’ most common components come from leaves harvested from East Africa, Assam, and a place called Ceylon, which is now known as Sri Lanka. 

The combination of leaves from these places produces a rich flavor. Because it’s so intense, English breakfast tea can be enjoyed with milk or cream as well as a sweetener, whereas other, lighter teas are not meant to be consumed with cream. 

This tea is typically eaten with:

  • Full English breakfasts 
  • Carb-heavy breakfasts like pancakes, potatoes, etc.
  • Meat-heavy breakfasts
traditional English breakfast with tea

Scottish Breakfast Tea

Scottish breakfast tea may sound similar to English breakfast tea since English breakfast tea comes from Scotland. And it is in some ways. However, they are not the same in flavor, and the way they’re enjoyed is also not entirely the same. English breakfast tea has undergone some changes since Drysdale’s creation, most notably the incorporation of Ceylon tea leaves. 

So, rather than being exactly the same as an English breakfast tea, Scottish breakfast tea is most similar to Drysdale’s original creation. It’s also become the least popular of the three. 

The Flavor

Scottish breakfast tea is the most intense in its flavor of the three types of breakfast teas. The reason for this is because, especially in the 19th century, Scotland’s water quality was not the best. Therefore, the tea needed to be stronger in order to cover the taste of the water, which has been described as being slightly salty. The main components used for Scottish breakfast tea are from Assam and Kenya, though some less authentic blends also use Ceylon leaves. 

Scottish breakfast tea is usually enjoyed with milk and eaten alongside:

  • Breakfast pastries
  • Eggs
  • Sausage

Irish Breakfast Tea

Irish breakfast tea is the most “different” of the trio. There is not a long and complex history here; tea was imported from India to Ireland, most likely through the Dutch East India Company, and was consumed mostly by rich people. However, over time, tea became more accessible to lower-class citizens and became one of the most popular beverages during the Great Famine. 

During World War II, Irish merchants were limited in their ability to purchase tea. Once the war ended, many Irish tea merchants began sourcing their components from Kenya rather than India, which produced a stronger flavor as well as it being more accessible. 

The Flavor

Irish breakfast tea relies heavily on the Assam components, and it has more of a malty flavor than its English and Scottish counterparts. It also has more of a reddish color to it, despite being a black tea blend. This tea is also enjoyed with milk or cream sometimes, but it is also sometimes enjoyed plain or with sugar. 

Irish breakfast tea is usually enjoyed with:

  • Breakfast sandwiches
  • Scones with jam 
  • Bacon and ham 
  • Eggs 

Any Way You Brew It:  English, Irish & Scottish Breakfast Teas Are a Great Start 

English, Irish, and Scottish breakfast teas are three very different teas with somewhat similar backstories. However, when considering which tea you’d like to have with your breakfast, you need to be very mindful of whether you’re in the mood for something super intense, like Scottish breakfast tea, or if you need something a little lighter, like the English version. The right blend is essential to a successful day. 

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graphic of English Irish Scottish breakfast tea