As a name, English Breakfast is as meaningless as California Burgundy and a good deal of nonsense goes into trying to make it otherwise. It simply consists of whatever the blender believes will make a good eye-opener. Some brands claim theirs is a “traditional” English Breakfast because it contains Keemun, but then the English had drunk tea at breakfast time for two hundred years before Keemun was heard of. One British firm has for a century or more sold an Imperial Breakfast Blend, presumably to the Englishman for whom it is not enough just to wake up each morning a raving nationalist. Tradition is on a firmer basis with blends sold in the U.S. and the U.K. as Irish Breakfast, which always contains a high proportion of malty Assam, though nobody seems sure just when the Irish acquired this preference. (In Ireland itself nowadays African, not Assam, goes into its blends.) Assam of darkest hue and strongest flavor is the basis likewise for what my friend Helen Gustafson of Chez Panisse once dubbed “German Breakfast.” This has turned out to be quite a useful name for what otherwise we’d have to call Ostfrieden-style tea. East Friesland, to give it its English spelling, is the tea-loving German province bordering Holland on the coast of the North Sea which has tea traditions older even than the English. Both Irish and Ostfriesen blends are meant to be very hearty and go best with milk.
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