Top Pick Of The Week

March 6, 2012


Irish Breakfast Tea

Irish breakfast tea—Assam tea from India—has a beautiful red liquor. But its unique palate is what earns it so many dévotées. Photo © Olga Miltsova | Dreamstime.

WHAT IT IS: Irish breakfast tea, known worldwide as Assam tea from northeast India.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT: It’s not made from Camellia sinensis, but from Camellia assamica, a related strain that grew wild in the Assam province.
WHY WE LOVE IT: The unique maltiness of Assam tea makes it a perennial favorite. With a natural richness, no milk or sugar is required!
WHERE TO BUY IT:  At fine tea emporiums. Unless you can be  assured of a great purveyor, avoid the generic “Irish breakfast tea” packages and look for “Assam.” We like this gift set from Serendipitea, packaged with a green ribbon for St. Patrick’s Day.

Assam brews to a red hue, here in our favorite tea-brewer, IngenuiTea. Photo courtesy Targuman |

Taste o’ the Irish: A gift set of Fair Trade Certified Assam tea with a tea scoop that makes exactly one cup, tied with a green ribbon. Photo by River Soma | THE NIBBLE.


Irish Breakfast Tea For For
St. Patrick’s Day!

(What Is Irish Breakfast Tea?)

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REVIEW: With St. Patrick’s Day in less than two weeks, we wanted to focus today’s Top Pick on Irish food. In a call for ideas from the office team, the top three nominees were corned beef and cabbage, beer and Irish breakfast tea.

While we’ll share plenty on corned beef and cabbage and Irish beer. But for the Top Pick, Irish breakfast tea is the winner:

  • Not only is it a packaged specialty food—which is the focus of the Top Pick Of The Week—but...
  • Its unique, malty flavor and general richness makes it one of our very favorite teas.
  • We can even recommend a gift box, tied with a green ribbon for St. Patrick’s Day, from Serendipitea, a top-quality tea purveyor. 

Irish Breakfast Tea Is Indian

Truth to tell, Irish breakfast tea is a commercial name for one of the world’s great teas, Assam. It’s called Assam everywhere in the world outside the U.K. (and in the U.S., where the term emigrated to America with Brits, Irish and Scots).

The Irish liked the strong black tea from Assam so much that it became their morning wake-up drink; hence, “Irish breakfast.” Those in the know call it Assam.

Assam (ah-SAHM) is a state in northeastern India. India is split into two geographical areas, with Burma in the middle. Assam, east of Burma, is highlighted in red in the map below.

Image by CC-by-sa Plane Mad | Wikimedia; Assam is the area in red. See the full map.

Assam Tea Trivia

  • Birthplace. Assam is considered the birthplace of the indigenous tea plant varietal Camellia assamica, a variant of Camellia sinensis, the plant of Chinese and Japanese teas (and all others).
  • Success. After tests with Camellia sinensis in the 1830s, including trial and error plantings of Assamese-Chinese hybrid varieties, the planters deemed the local Camellia assamica to be the most suitable plant to grow in Assam. The British (who ruled India from 1858 to 1947 and loved tea) allowed the rental of land for tea plantations in Upper Assam, where the soil and the climate were most suitable.
  • Not Related. Irish breakfast tea is not related to English breakfast tea, which is a lighter-bodied and lighter-flavored blend of black teas. It is typically built on a base Keemun tea (Camellia sinensis) from China.
  • Not A Blend. Assam/Irish breakfast tea is not a blend: It’s 100% Assam-grown tea. The English breakfast tea blend was actually developed by a Scot, but it acquired its name after becoming very popular with Queen Victoria, and thus with all of England.
  • Assam Versus Keemun. In contrast to Assam’s maltiness, sometimes with soft honey notes, Keemun is fruity, with hints of pine and dried plum, a bit of orchid on the nose and a touch of floweriness on the palate.

The robust black tea that is produced on the hillsides of Assam is of very high quality. The red-hued infusions tend to be strong, full and bright. But what we love most is the round, malty flavor.

You can identify Assam instantly from the maltiness—and it never fails to please.

We hope you love it as much as we do.

— Karen Hochman


Check out the article index, below.




Groovy Tea Gifts

Irish Breakfast Tea (Assam)

A Gift Of Tea. This fine, whole leaf Assam comes with a scoop to accurately measure the amount of tea per cup. A lovely gift (or for your own enjoyment), it’s tied with a green ribbon. Now all you need is the Adagio tea brewer (at right). More information.

Adagio Teas ingenuiTea Teapot. One of our favorite kitchen gadgets, it’s the easiest and neatest way to brew loose tea. When ready, the tea drains into your cup or mug. Photo courtesy Targuman | Amazon. More information.

Sugar For Your Tea. They’re not shamrocks, but these little green sugar hearts are just as festive on St. Patrick’s Day. Made in Japan by the sugar artisans of Chambre de Sucre, they’re also available in blue, pink and yellow. More information.


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