The Difference Between Irish, English, and Scottish Breakfast Teas
Updated: Apr 8
A St. Patrick's Day Teatime
Tomorrow, March 17, is St. Patrick’s Day. In the U.S., we associate it with wearing kelly green and drinking Guiness beer. And, many of us – including me – are unclear of its origins as a holiday. Although some saints are no longer thought to be historical, St. Patrick is considered to be a historical person who was born in Roman Britain in the late 4th century. He was kidnapped as a teen and taken as a slave to Ireland. He escaped his enslavement and returned to Britain but later returned to Ireland in 432 to convert the Irish to Christianity. While in Ireland, he established schools, monasteries, and churches. Many most likely apocryphal stories and legends surround him, including the legend that he used the shamrock to explain the Trinity. He died on March 17, 461, and it has been a Catholic feast day since the 9th or 10th century.
The first St. Patrick’s Day parade in America was held in 1601 in the Spanish colony at St. Augustine, FL. More than a 100 years later, Irish soldiers serving in the British military marched in New York City on March 17, 1772 to honor St. Patrick, the patron saint of their homeland. The oldest continuous St. Patrick’s Day parade in the U.S. is held in Savannah, GA, which unlike other southern cities has a large Catholic community. Their first parade was held in 1813.
Those of us who are not parade-people need not be left out of the celebration. We can celebrate the Irish culture in a quiet fashion with a cup of Irish tea and a slice of homemade Vegan Irish Soda Bread. I have often wondered what is the difference between English, Scottish, and Irish breakfast tea, so I decided to jump into the topic and see what I could find.
English Breakfast Tea is one of the most popular black teas around the world and is drank at all times of day not just the morning. Black tea has less caffeine than coffee and contains antioxidants. English Breakfast tea is a blend of various kinds of black tea, Assam, a malty and bitter tea; Ceylon, piney and sour tea; Kenyan, a fruity and floral tea; and finally Keemun, a critic and smoky tea.
Although we know is as English breakfast tea, the blend was created by a Scottish tea master Drysdale in 1892. Drysdale thought British tea drinkers needed what we termed an “eye-opener,” a strongly flavored black tea to accompany the heaviness of a typical British breakfast. This tea blend was admired by Queen Victorian during her stays at Balmoral, and she brought the tea back with her to London where it was renamed “English Breakfast Tea.”
Like English Breakfast tea, Scottish breakfast is a blended black tea and drank at anytime during the day. The blend may also include teas from Indonesia or China. It was created a remedy the Scotland’s very soft water. Soft water has less than 60mg of calcium per liter and that calcium affects the flavor of tea. According to YorkshireTeas.com, soft water creates a “lighter brisker tea.”
Another blended black tea, Irish breakfast contains the same teas as English Breakfast but with more Assam. This gives it a reddish hue and a richer, maltier flavor. It is a strong blend that is designed to be drunk with milk. Dairy is very popular in Ireland, and Ireland is known for the rich milk from its grass-fed cows. Assam black tea is actually the most popular drink in Ireland, even more popular than Guinness or whiskey. The Irish consumed 4.83 pounds per capita of tea in 2016; that’s second in the world after the Turks. Irish tea is often enjoyed at anytime of day not just breakfast and is often served with breads, such as the Irish non-yeast soda bread in the recipe below.
Vegan Irish Soda Bread*
Preparation Time 25 minutes Cook Time 35 minutes
Makes one round loaf
3 ½ to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups oat milk
1 ½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Preheat oven to 425˚F.
Lightly grease and flour a sheet pan. Stir together all-purpose flour, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a small mixing bowl, stir together oat milk and apple cider vinegar; let sit for ten minutes to create a vegan “buttermilk."
Once you have the vegan “buttermilk,” mix a little of it at a time into the dry ingredients to form clumps. Then mix with a dough hook in a mixer or knead with your hands for about one minute until blended. Form the dough into a ball and flatten into a six-inch diameter by two-inch high round. Pat it with all-purpose flour.
Place it on prepared sheet pan and bake for 32 to 35 minutes until it sounds hollow when tapped. Allow the bread to cool completely on a rack, and serve with jam or your favorite spread.
Turn on to some traditional Irish music and enjoy your day! If you are interested in learning about traditional Irish music, see today’s post on the Perennial Music and Arts blog.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! ☘️
Janae J. Almen is a professional music instructor, composer, sound artist, and writer. She has a BA in Music/Education from Judson University and a MM in Computer Music/Composition from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. She is the founder of Perennial Music and Arts and is passionate about sharing her love of music and arts.