Starting the day with strong tea for breakfast


Americans like tea, especially iced. But they traditionally wake up to coffee, which offers a bolder jolt of caffeine. Nobody ever accused us as a nation of being overly attracted to subtlety.

But even coffee addicts can use an occasional change of pace - and tea can be a welcome surprise in the wake-me-up category.

Even if you prefer your morning brew on the strong side, tea can oblige. That's what "breakfast tea" is all about.

Whether the description is English or Scottish, Irish or Ostfriesen, breakfast teas are blended to produce a hearty cup strong enough to stand up well to milk. The names reflect the distinctive tea preferences in the countries the teas hail from, says Al Romero, tea buyer for Sutton Place Gourmet.

Irish breakfast tea is usually stronger than English, blended to meet Irish preferences for a strong, malty brew to greet the day. The classic Irish breakfast brew is a black tea from the Assam district of India.

Assam teas are known as hearty, strong-flavored and full-bodied. A good cup of Assam will have interesting flavor notes, with enough strength to merit the description "bracing." If you're a fan of British-style tea, you're probably no stranger to a good cup of Assam.

If there's a heartier tea than Irish breakfast blends, it would be found in Ostfriesen in Northern Germany. There, people like their tea strong all day long.

Ostfriesen (sometimes known as East Frisian) tea is brewed to stand up to cream, not just milk. The strength of the tea comes from the type of leaves, as well as the amount brewed and the time it is allowed to infuse.

Ostfriesen tea is traditionally sipped through a layer of unstirred cream, with a sugar cube held between the teeth.

Like Irish breakfast tea, Ostfriesen teas are usually Assam. But they will often be whole-leaf teas, while many Irish blends will contain leaves that have been crushed, torn and curled (C.T.C. tea), producing quick-brewing teas with a lot of flavor.

C.T.C. tea will not have as wide a range of flavor notes as a whole-leaf tea, says Frank Sanchez, operations manager for Upton Tea Imports in Hopkinton, Mass., but it yields tea that a lot of people like.

English breakfast tea blends range far beyond Assam. They often include African teas, as well as teas from India, Ceylon, Indonesia and other areas.

Scottish breakfast teas often contain a blend of Assam and Ceylonese or African teas. They produce a strong cup of tea, but tend to be a bit less malty than Irish breakfast blends.

Plenty of teas can produce a satisfying morning brew. But it's a good bet that connoisseurs would all agree on one requirement: For a truly good cup, use a high-quality loose tea, and never a bag.

That's the best tea advice I ever got, along with this bit of wisdom: If you're put off by loose leaves in the bottom of your cup, buy a good strainer. The fuller taste is worth the extra effort.

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