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What is Irish Breakfast Tea?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Irish Breakfast tea is a strong, full bodied blend of black teas. The tea is heavily drunk in Ireland, which explains the name, and it is associated with breakfast teas in the rest of the world. Fans of Irish Breakfast tea say that the robust flavor helps to revitalize them in the morning, making for a more productive and enjoyable day. Many shops and tea stores carry Irish Breakfast, since the tea is quite popular in many nations.

The primary black tea in Irish Breakfast is Assam tea, named after a region in India. Tea has been cultivated in Assam for centuries, and the area is famous for its very dark, rich, malty black tea. Assam is a lowland tea, unlike many teas which are grown in the highlands of various regions of the world, and it has been an important part of Indian culture since around 1,000 CE, if not earlier. Assam is one of the major tea producing regions in the world.

The tea plant is actually classified as a subspecies of Camellia sinensis, in a recognition of the fact that it is markedly different from most teas. Camellia sinensis assamica varies widely in quality, depending on how it is grown and harvested. High quality Assam tea is certified by the Tea Board of India, allowing consumers and tea blending companies to select particularly distinctive Assam.

Irish Breakfast tea is rarely pure Assam tea; it usually contains an assortment of black teas including Darjeeling, blended to produce a dark, layered flavor. When brewed, the tea is generally a very dark red to brown in color. It can become tannic if it is overbrewed, but a perfectly brewed cup will simply be brisk in flavor with an undertone of dark, richly fermented malt. The tea is usually served with cream and sugar to mellow out the intense flavor.

As a general rule, the best Irish Breakfast tea is available in looseleaf form. Loose leaf tea is made from the best parts of the tea plant, since it is visible to the consumer, and when it is brewed, it slowly unfolds to release its flavor. Ideally, the tea should be brewed loose in a pot, allowing it to completely expand in the water, with cups of tea being poured through strainers to remove the leaves. Bagged Irish Breakfast tea varies in quality, with some bags being perfectly acceptable, while others are stuffed with filler which may make the tea bitter or dull.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By burcinc — On Jun 26, 2011

@ddljohn-- Great question! The labels don't imply much about the teas as you said since they are both a bland of different ones, mainly from Southeast Asia and sometimes Africa. The difference between Irish breakfast tea and British breakfast tea is the proportions of the different teas.

Assam tea from India is used in both of these teas, but I believe that the amount of Assam tea in Irish breakfast is larger than the amount in British. British tea is usually some Assam and then other teas like Ceylon and Kenyan teas. I have seen different brands prefer a different bland based on preferences.

Irish breakfast tea on the other hand is mostly Assam tea and a little bit of a different type of tea might be included like Darjeeling, Kenyan and Sri Lankan.

These are all details of course. As the bottom line, most people would agree that Irish breakfast tea is stronger, maltier and richer in general. The amount of Assam tea in it makes all the difference.

By ddljohn — On Jun 25, 2011

I'm a huge fan of tea as well, almost as much as the Irish and British! I've had British breakfast tea before, I've never tried the Irish breakfast tea. The description here sounds like the British breakfast tea that I have. And Britain and Ireland are so close to one another geographically, although I know that the teas come from somewhere else.

Can you tell what is the difference between these two types?

By discographer — On Jun 22, 2011

I remember when I first picked up some Irish breakfast tea at the grocery store. I didn't know that it's meant to be had with milk and was surprised by how strong the flavor was when compared to regular black tea. The taste is really wonderful with milk though. Cream makes it a bit too rich for me, so I prefer to use 2% milk which is perfect.

I sometimes think that the flavor is between tea and coffee. But I prefer this to coffee because coffee has a different and stronger type of caffeine. Irish breakfast has enough caffeine to wake me up in the morning but without jitters that comes with coffee.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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