Irish vs English Breakfast Tea

The world of tea would not be the same without English, Irish and Scottish breakfast tea. These blends were so important throughout the history that they had a huge impact on creating a whole western tea culture. Today, there is not a single tea lover in the world that hasn’t at least heard about breakfast teas. Today, there are hundreds of different breakfast blends, but the most favorite and popular ones are still those that were created many decades ago – English, Irish and Scotish breakfast.

Difference between English and Irish breakfast tea

Both English and Irish breakfast teas are black tea blends. English breakfast tea was originally made with Chinese Keemun tea. Later, this changed and the most common tea base for an English Breakfast became Assam and other strong black teas.

Tea culture in England started before India started producing its teas. Later, with tea being more available and more affordable, breakfast blends included different types of tea, mostly Assam, and cheaper broken leaf that was better served with milk and sugar. Today, they can include almost any type of strong black tea, as long as they are full-bodied and strong.

On the other hand, tea culture in Ireland started a bit later in the 18th century. By that time, Assam tea was available and reserved for upper classes[1]. Irish breakfast almost always has a strong Assam component, and a strong and robust flavor typical for morning blends. In fact, some Irish Breakfast teas may contain Assam only. Unlike the Irish coffee, Irish breakfast tea does not contain any alcohol, and it doesn’t have a whiskey flavor. The main difference between these two breakfast blends is in strength. Irish Breakfast tea is usually stronger than English breakfast, but today, that doesn’t always need to be a case.

Today, many English Breakfast blends contain at least 2 or more different teas, sometimes even four or more. On the other hand, Irish Breakfast is likely to have 2 at most, with the stronger one always being a predominant one.

Interestingly, both blends were “invented about 200 years ago, and became a staple in households in both countries.

Which tea grades are used in breakfast blends?

What makes a regular full leaf Assam different from a breakfast blend is the caffeine content and flavor. The same tea plant can give very different teas. Unbroken tea leaves will release less caffeine and offer lighter flavor with subtle notes, while broken leaf or fannings and dust give a strong and robust cup. A cup of tea made with tea dust may have 1-2 times more caffeine than the one made with unbroken leaves. Moreover, the flavor has to be strong enough for both milk and sugar.

Broken Orange Pekoe and Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe are the best tea grades to use in breakfast blends and they maximize both the flavor and strength. However, when flavor is less important than strength, tea dust may give a better energy boost. This is where tea bags come into focus. All breakfast blends are widely available in supermarkets, mostly in tea bags. Tea dust and fannings are likely to always give a stronger cup than any loose leaf tea. However, it will rarely beat the flavor and quality of loose leaf tea.

Interesting fact: The flavor of English Breakfast and it’s strong character are so popular that Breakfast blends can be decaffeinated too. Decaf tea will still give a strog cup that goes well with milk and sugar, but with zero caffeine.

Teas in breakfast blends

Both English and Irish breakfast teas are made with strong black teas. However, English Breakfast will usually be much lighter. White there is a no specific rule on which teas and in which quantities to use include in any of those blends. However, there will usually have some of the following teas:

  1. Chinese Keemun tea

Rich, full bodied and delicious, Keemun is a great tea to include in a breakfast blend or to drink on its own.

  1. Kenyan tea

Flavorful and full bodied Kenyan teas that are often available in CTC style, great for making a strong cup of tea.

  1. Ceylon tea

Ceylon black teas or teas from Sri Lanka can range from stronger to lighter, and although they may contain a lot of caffeine, they tend to be a bit lighter than Assam teas.

  1. Assam tea

Assam teas will always be full bodied and have a malty flavor, sometimes with spicy, chocolate or earthy notes. They are a perfect base for breakfast teas.

  1. Darjeeling tea

The best Darjeeling black tea for a breakfast blend if you don’t want to compromise on the flavor is the second flush tea. With a stronger flavor and higher fermentation level, it’s more suitable than first flush teas.

  1. Nilgiri black tea

Nilgiri black teas from India can also be included in breakfast blends. They are usually less strong than Assam.

How to brew breakfast teas

Preheat your mug or teapot and cups. Use about one teaspoon of tea leaves per cup of water, and one additional spoon if you are using a teapot. Soft water is a better choice for brewing tea, preferably spring water. Steep tea in boiling water for at least 3-5 minutes. Strain, pour into a mug and add milk and sugar.

How to make your own English and Irish breakfast tea

If you want to enjoy a homemade English or Irish breakfast tea, you can easily make it at home. The most basic two teas you can blend are a strong Assam black tea and an Indian tea gem–Darjeeling. For English Breakfast, use at least one part of Assam and one or ½ part of Darjeeling tea. For the Irish breakfast, add only a tiny bit of Darjeeling to the blend.

However, some breakfast teas may contain only one tea – usually Assam or a strong African black tea. Basically, any strong robust tea may serve as a breakfast tea – as long as it’s robust enough to be served with milk.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It’s not intended to replace medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Every person is different and may react to different herbs and teas differently. Never use teas or herbs to treat serious medical conditions on your own. Always seek professional medical advice before choosing home remedies.


[1] https://www.irishcentral.com/culture/food-drink/timeline-of-tea-in-ireland