Ever wondered what the difference is between English, Irish and Scottish breakfast teas. Well, it’s a relatively simple answer driven by the terroir of tea. While there is no uniform formula for each of these blends, their flavor profiles are generally agreed upon within the industry. English breakfast is typically sweeter, while Irish has the most astringency (making it the perfect candidate for milk or cream). Scottish breakfast is astringent like Irish only the astringency is felt further back in your mouth, so it is not as forward as Irish but still milk worthy. We know plenty of people who put milk in their English breakfast, and that is fine too. However, it is a smooth black tea blend if made in the right ratios and nice to drink in the morning plain.
Not all black teas are the same, nor should they be. Remember tea is an agricultural product and it should vary in flavor year-to-year and by where it is grown. The three black teas that make up these three breakfast blends are Keemun, Assam and Ceylon teas. That’s right, all three blends are generally made from these three black teas. The ratios of these teas change whether the tea is an English, Irish or Scottish breakfast tea.
English, Irish, & Scottish Tea Differences
English breakfast is predominately Keemun tea out of China mixed with Assam tea from India. Depending on the tea blender and the characteristics of each tea for the year, English breakfast can also have a small portion of Ceylon tea. Keemun tea from China is a malty black tea that is slightly sweet and stone fruit in flavor. It doesn’t have the astringency of an Assam or Ceylon. However, blending it with those teas helps to give them more complexity in flavor and a softer mouth feel.
Irish Breakfast is predominately Assam tea with a little Keemun and Ceylon teas thrown in. This is a strong tea in that it can dry your mouth quickly
because of the combination of Assam and Ceylon. Scottish is predominately Ceylon with smaller portions of Keemun and Assam included. To tell the difference between Irish and Scottish, you need to exclude the milk and look at the color of the brew. Ceylon tea is a beautiful red while Assam is brews more orange. You should also pay attention to where your mouth gets dry in drinking these teas. An Irish breakfast, will dry your mouth more toward the front to middle while a Ceylon will hit further back on your tongue and throat.
So the next time you a few minutes in the morning with your cup of tea, pay attention to what you feel in your mouth and the flavors of these popular blends. It is a fun way to appreciate the complexity of something that on the surface seems rather simple.
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Matcha Infused Sencha and Brie
Tea has been consumed with food for centuries, so it seems rather funny to talk about tea and food pairings. However, as high quality tea becomes more widely available there are many opportunities to look at what you want to eat with your prized tea to enhance its flavor and give you new experiences. We bet there are certain foods you wouldn’t think to have a cup of tea with. So here are 3 unusual tea and food pairings you might want to try.
- Brie and Matcha Infused Sencha – Yes, France meets Japan. Given that Brie is typically paired with a Chardonnay or fruity light red wine, Matcha Infused Sencha was a shock. This grassy tea compliments the Brie and enhances its flavor without losing its own. The two together create a lite nutty flavor that is smooth and creamy.
- Tomato, Basil & Garlic Pasta with 2nd Flush Darjeeling – Pairing this fragrant, yet strong, tea with a tomato sauce makes for lovely combination. The crisp Darjeeling cuts the acidity of the sauce while enhancing the basil with other herbal notes. Darjeeling is surprisingly versatile, so pair it with your favorite tomato sauce and pasta combination. It also stands up to your favorite spicy dishes.
- Roasted Nuts & White Peony Tea – The next time you reach for your favorite roasted nut for a snack, grab a cup of white tea to go with it. The combination of the salty nut and floral white make a third flavor together that is like cream. This is especially true with pistachios, cashews, and almonds.
Pairing tea with meals is similar to pairing wine with meals. Lighter teas with lighter foods and stronger teas with stronger foods. However, don’t allow that guidance to stop you from experimenting. The complex flavors in teas make them very versatile and fun to play with. So bring out your favorite tea and pair it with some of your favorite foods you wouldn’t consider. You will be amazed at what you find.
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The tea cozy (cosy in British English) is first documented in writing in 1867 in England, but is actually believed to have been around since the introduction of tea to England back in the late 1600’s. This handy device keeps your teapot warm. Given that afternoon tea became fashionable in the 1840’s, it is more likely they were in use sooner. Afternoon tea was a social affair, so conversation dominated and tea could quickly get cold. So, as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.
Tea Cozy Design
This humble device is built to allow you to pour and easily gain access to the lid to refill. Originally made of linen, they are now made of any washable material. Afternoon tea was popular in mainstream culture during the Victorian Era, so the tea cozy became a highly embroidered cover and fashion statement for the teapot. If was fashionable during the Victorian Era to decorate just about every object in your house. The tea cozies of the time resembled something of a knitted hat that wrapped the teapot from the bottom up or a cover that draped over the pot and was removed every time you needed to pour. More recently, the tea cozy has become something of a fashion statement or artistic center piece for your tea party. They are a combination of knitting and sewing. If you think you want this, there are books on how to make some really unique tea cozies.
When to Put on the Tea Cozy
Newspapers of mid 1800’s actually debated when it was appropriate to put the cozy on the teapot, before or after steeping. The concern was that the cozy would cause the water to be too hot to steep. This is actually a legitimate concern if you are steeping green tea, which would have been the dominant tea in the 1800’s. If you are steeping a black tea, hotter is better. Ultimately is seems to be a personal preference as long as you factor in water temperature.
In closing, if you ever need to keep the teapot warm for long conversations, the tea cozy is not a bad addition to your tea accessories and you can make it yourself.
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Tea Plantation in Fog by Flickr user Matthieu Sévère
So the very early spring weather here in Northern Virginia has has thinking about the current growing conditions in our favorite tea growing regions. The first pluck in China will occur at the end of this month, so here are 3 tea growing conditions you can use to impress or bore your friends the next time weather pops into the conversation.
- Bring on the rain. Camellia sinensis, or tea, needs at least 50 inches of water a year (Northern Virginia averages 38 inches a year). In places like India, it can receive as much as 98 inches of rain a year before it starts to be too much water for the plant. It cannot sit in the water, so well drained soil is a must, which is why you will often find those tea farms on the sides of mountains.
- Cold is not its favorite temperature. Tea grown in the high elevations, like in China or Darjeeling, India, will go dormant as soon as the night time temperatures routinely drop below 50 degrees F. The plant will be just fine and require no intervention so long as the temperature does not drop below 25 degrees F. At that point, the plant needs to be covered to prevent damage to the main stem. Keep mind, in both China and India, these are tropical climates, much like the southern United States. They just happen to be mountains, where that is not the case here in the US.
- Direct sunshine not required. Tea does not need a lot of direct sunlight to grow, as little as a few hours a day. Too much can cause problems for the plant if it dries out the soil. The more complex tasting teas grow in light to moderate shade. Granted, that shade slows their growth. It is that slow growth that helps create the complex flavor.
So keep thinking warm weather for our favorite tea fields, because Terroir of Tea is critical to our final cup.
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Idyllic Picture of Darjeeling Tea Plantation
Protected Geographic Identification is a distinctive name or sign that indicates the originating territory of a particular product’s country, region or locality where its quality, reputation or other characteristic is linked to its geographic location. In the world of tea, as with other products like wine, geography matters. It is in the soil, weather, and altitude that tea derives its flavor. We call that terroir. Without knowing where the tea is grown, you have a harder time judging its quality.
For instance, Sencha grown in China has a dry grass flavor while Sencha grown in Japan has more of a seaweed flavor. Which one is better quality? To tea snobs, it is cleary the Sencha grown in Japan! Sencha is historically a Japanese tea which is steamed to stop oxidation and not baked. Since green tea is often associated with a more healthy option in Europe and the US, its quite common to see teas being marketed as Sencha that are not grown in Japan at all.
Darjeeling is one of the first teas to get geographic identification protection, which has helped to reduce significant the use of the term Darjeeling on tea that was not grown in the region. Sri Lanka has dipped into geographic identification protection for Ceylon teas and China is just getting started. Unlike other countries, China has a much harder job in determining how to carve the geographic boundaries around certain teas. Tea has been grown in that country for thousands of years, so the style of manufacture has spread and evolved throughout the country. What’s more, China has its own folklore around the origins of specific teas like Dragonwell and Puerh, which will be a starting point for them in negotiating in this space. There are a great many named teas that could use the protection of this international agreement.
If you aren’t familiar with Protected Georgraphic Identification, just look at the cheese counter at your local grocery store. You will see that many of them, like parmigiano reggiano, have these protections. Even the Idaho potato has protected geographic identification. So we hope more teas are able to get these protections so consumers can better understand how important location is to the taste of their favorite beverage.
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