Whether it’s morning, noon or night, most diehard tea drinkers will agree there’s a style of tea perfectly suited for every occasion. Yet few are explicitly marketed as such—except for breakfast tea. Brisk, bold and black, breakfast teas are a somewhat nebulous category, defined mostly by personality traits. “Breakfast teas should be hearty, whereas other teas can be much lighter and nuanced. This means full-bodied in mouthfeel and heavy on malt and honey in the flavor,” says Smith Teamaker head teamaker Ravi Kroesen. “With a breakfast tea, a person should feel like they are drinking something that can stand up to whatever food is thrown its way, whether savory or sweet. Just like coffee.”
Some say the British invented the category after discovering fully oxidized teas from China in the 1600s. “They tempered the strong brew with milk and sugar and soon they were setting up tea plantations in their colonies (India, Sri Lanka, East Africa) to support their addiction. Hence, breakfast teas from the commonwealth countries are grown generally on large plantations in tea origins settled by the Brits,” says Firepot Tea founder Sarah Scarborough. “Irish Breakfast, English Breakfast, Scottish Breakfast are all slight variants on the same theme: a strong black tea grown, processed and blended for strength, color, consistency and ability to hold up to milk and sugar.”
Though you can find the rare single variety breakfast tea, the overwhelming majority are blends so that the flavor and quality remains consistent no matter the season. “Their popularity rests on this reliability, both for the maker and the consumer,” adds Scarborough. Still, many of today’s tea purveyors offer breakfast blends that pay homage to tradition while pushing the boundaries of flavor in the category. Here are six to try.
Hailing from one of Nashville’s best tea shops, Firepot’s English Breakfast-inspired blend was created to fly close to the heart of what a good traditional breakfast tea should taste like. “In developing each of the teas for this collection my aim was not to reinvent the wheel or express my creativity, but to make the very best organic and fair-trade version of each of these classic tea types,” says founder Sarah Scarborough. “Being a British Breakfast tea, I blended a high-quality, full-leaf, organic Ceylon (tea from Sri Lanka) known for its aromatic, fruity and citrusy character with a malty, gutty (strong and full-bodied in tea speak) Assam tea known for notes of tobacco, caramel and fresh cut wood. It’s sort of a marriage of the masculine and feminine in one perfect morning or afternoon cup.” $11, firepot.com
Harney & Sons Supreme Breakfast
While some breakfast teas are made with cut or curl leaves, Harney & Sons uses full-leaf versions of Chinese and Indian teas to bring a more premium quality to their Supreme Breakfast blend. With flavors of soft cocoa and firm structure, it’s one of the 20 breakfast teas the company currently offers. “The flavor is deliciously bold yet smooth,” says tea blender Emeric Harney. “Assams usually are bold, full-bodied and mildly astringent, but the inclusion of a toasty Keemun helps to mellow out that astringent quality to yield a beautiful cup.” 4 oz. tin for $12, harney.com
Jolie Tea Lumiere
A blend of Darjeeling, Assam and Sri Lankan black teas, Lumiere is one of the many breakfast teas conjured up by Jolie Tea. “The Darjeeling adds lightness to the blend, the Assam adds a maltiness and the Sri Lankan contributes to the full body,” says owner Amy Job, adding that the specific blend was a combination first introduced to her by friends in India. “We named it Lumiere to reflect upon the time of day for this tea, the morning or ‘first light.’ ” $18, istheteainyou.com
SerendipiTea French Breakfast
This organic breakfast blend from NYC-based SerendipiTea combines a smoky Chinese black tea with dried rose petals for a brewed cup that’s robust but also soothingly sweet and floral. 4 oz. box for $10, serendipitea.com
Smith Teamaker Portland Breakfast
For fans of extra-robust Irish or Scottish breakfast teas, Smith Teamaker’s Portland Breakfast is one of the two breakfast blends the Portland, Oregon-based company makes. Inspired by the Pacific Northwest, Portland Breakfast is “a muscular blend, with heavier and earthier components than our British Brunch, using Chinese Keemun and Pu-erh in addition to Assam, which gives this tea stronger notes of leather, peat and maple,” says head teamaker Ravi Kroesen. “We also break the rules a bit by adding Pu-erh, which would generally not be used to make a breakfast tea. It’s dark, rich and perfect for a rainy Portland morning.” $12, smithtea.com
Spirit Tea Sunstone
Made from a proprietary blend of full black tea leaves from Southwest China, this is Spirit Tea’s top seller. “We wanted Sunstone to have superior smoothness and enough complexity to be sipped and appreciated on its own terms, without cream, honey or sugar added,” says co-founder Taylor Cowan. “That said, we accept that people will add these things to their breakfast tea, so we sourced a blend of big-bodied, Da Ye (big leaf) variety teas that will stand up to what people choose to put in it.” From $9, spirittea.co
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