Whether you fancy hosting a traditional afternoon tea party, or a cup of hot or iced English tea is your beverage of choice then read on! English tea is a broad group of black teas, including English breakfast, afternoon teas and so many more. English teas are often blended from Assam, Ceylon and many other types, but the one thing they have in common is that they suit being served with milk.If the thought of trying to find the best English tea is daunting, then we are here to help! In this article we look at some of the typical types of black tea often found in an English tea blend as well as reviewing some of the top teas available. If you are looking to host an afternoon tea, we also offer some top tips to ensure it runs smoothly!
The U.S. Wellness Naturals organic English breakfast tea is our best pick as a single estate and sustainable loose Ceylon tea.
The Harney & Sons organic breakfast tea is our kosher and Fair Trade budget pick of the English teas.
Quick Comparison: Top 10 Best English Tea
1. U.S. Wellness Naturals Organic English Breakfast Tea
A single estate blend of loose Ceylon tea, the U.S. Wellness Naturals organic English breakfast tea is cultivated on the Dimbula region of Sri Lanka at various elevations and then packed in the US. This 8 oz of USDA organic tea is grown sustainably, and the tea workers are treated ethically.
The tea shoots are hand rolled for the perfect amount of oxidation to give potent flavor and aroma. This breakfast tea has a full bodied, rich and smooth taste with floral and fruity hints and it also comes with a 100% satisfaction guarantee.Suitable for drinking black or with milk, some have found this tea to lack body and flavor compared to other English breakfast teas and you made need to brew with more loose tea for a satisfactory flavor.
2. Harney & Sons Organic Breakfast Tea
A traditional blend of hand-picked teas, the Harney & Sons organic breakfast tea contains Assam and south Indian tea and can be drunk with milk or black. This pack of 20 tea bags are kosher, certified organic by QAI and the USDA and they are also Fair Trade certified. This tea can be more expensive than other breakfast teas and you may find it has a slightly milder flavor compared to other teas.
3. The Republic of Tea British Breakfast Tea
The tin of 50 tea bags of The Republic of Tea British Breakfast Tea is a blend of Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling and Kenyan teas and can be served with or without milk. Some drinkers have found that these unbleached tea bags are smaller, so you may need to use two tea bags if you prefer a stronger brew. This tea is certified kosher, gluten free and is Non-GMO Project Verified.
4. VAHDAM English Breakfast Original Black Tea
Made with Assam tea sourced from high elevations plantations in India, The VAHDAM English breakfast original black tea is a robust, aromatic and rich tea with a dark chocolate aroma. This 16 oz pack of long leaf tea can be served with or without milk and is also suitable for brewing kombucha tea.This higher caffeine tea also comes with an extra zipper bag to use once the tea has been opened and a satisfaction guarantee. Some buyers have found that a recent batch has been stale and lacking in flavor as well as aroma, and this tea may also contain more stalks than would be expected from a loose tea.
5. Tazo Awake English Breakfast Tea
The Tazo Awake English breakfast is six packs of individually wrapped tea bags (20 in each box). This is a full bodied blended black tea with a malty and bright flavor, although some drinkers consider that this tea can lack flavor. There is also a risk of damaging the tea bags when opening the individual wrappers.
6. teapigs English Breakfast Tea
A malty, zesty and rich brew, the Teapigs everyday brew is a pack of 40 count pyramid sachets which are made with a blend of Ceylon, Assam and Rwandan black teas. This black tea blend is suitable for drinking black or with milk. There can be a risk of the tea bags breaking when the string of the bag is pulled, and some consider that the slightly sweet hint to this tea is not as expected from this type of blend.
7. Rishi Organic English Breakfast Tea
The Rishi organic English breakfast has a brisk, malty and full bodied flavor with caramel undertones. Suitable for drinking with or without milk, this USDA organic blend of Assam black tea is sourced from different elevations within south and southeast Asia. This tea is also certified kosher and comes as a pack of 15 pyramid biodegradable sachets. As a full Assam blend, this will not need brewing for as long as recommended if you prefer your tea weaker.
8. Pique Organic English Breakfast Black Tea
Comprising of two packs of 28 single use sticks, the Pique Tea Crystals organic English breakfast is a blend of whole leaf Assam and Ceylon with an earthy and smooth flavor with hints of malt and molasses. This tea has been brewed and then crystalized, so to use, you just need you to open the sachet, pour the crystals into the cup then add hot water. These can be served with milk and are ideal for travelling with.This crystallization process allows up to 12 times the number of antioxidants to be extracted compared to normal brewing and this tea has been triple toxin screened for mycotoxins and heavy metals. These tea crystals are certified USDA organic and are also keto and Paleo certified. This tea may not be as strong as all drinkers would like and as these are crystals rather than tea, it cannot be strengthened by steeping longer.
9. Twinings of London Organic Breakfast Blend Tea
The Twinings of London Organic Breakfast Blend has a rich taste and hearty aroma and can be drunk with or without milk. This blend of select black teas and Kenyan and Assam teas is packaged as 120 individually wrapped tea bags (across six boxes). Although this is a stronger blend, some drinkers may still prefer to use two tea bags. These tea bags are Fair Trade certified as well as certified USDA organic.
10. Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire Gold Teabags
A high quality blend of black teas from the top ten tea gardens in Assam, Rwanda and Kenya, Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire Gold is a rich and full bodied golden tea with a malty and refreshing flavor. This tea is best enjoyed with milk and sugar to taste.
Although not certified organic, Rainforest Alliance Certified Growers do produce this tea. It comes as a box of 160 tea bags which are not individually wrapped or contain strings for easier extraction. Some drinkers consider that this tea is a little stale and it can be more of a bitter brew than expected. Some recent buyers think that the blend may have changed, and it is not as strong as it used to be.
Things to Consider Before Buying English Tea
English teas are black teas which are usually rich, full bodied and robust with a sweet citric taste and dark brown colored with a slightly red tint. A black tea is one which has been allowed to fully oxidize (unlike a green tea) before it is heat processed and dried. During oxidation, the cell walls of the tea plant interact with oxygen and this turns the leaves from a green to a brown-black color. Oxidation also alters the flavor of the tea, adding maltiness, fruitiness and sometimes smokiness.
A typical black tea contains around half the amount of caffeine than a cup of coffee and the less time that tea is allowed to steep or brew, the less caffeine it will contain. A cup of tea made with 6 oz of water will usually produce between 20 to 40 mg of caffeine, which will increase to 40 to 100 mg of caffeine when left to steep for four minutes.
Black Tea Grading and Blending
As a rule, the higher the altitude the tea is grown at, the slower its growth and the finer its taste.
Black teas are graded as to whether they are whole leaf or broken leaf. Whole leaf is what is left in the sieve after the tea leaves have been sieved and whole leaf tea takes longer to steep and release its flavor than other grades of tea. Broken leaf is further sorted into pekoe, which is a leaf size rather than type of tea, fannings and dust or fines.
Orange pekoe (pronounced ‘peck-o’) is the broken leaf grading typically used for Sri Lankan and Indian teas rather than Chinese and it is thought the use of the word ‘orange’ related to the marketing of Dutch East India Company imported tea in Holland and Zealand - the branding of ‘orange’ associated it with the Dutch royal family.
Fannings are the pieces of broken leaf about the size of a pin head, and dust or fines is the siftings left from the broken leaf. A broken leaf tea infuses faster and gives a stronger flavor and broken leaf teas are usually used to fill tea bags. Some fannings can be more expensive and have more flavor than cheaper whole leaf teas.
A blended tea is a mix of different teas to give different flavors, colors and aromas. Blends can contain as many as 40 different teas sourced from different estates and regions. Below are some of the teas which often feature in English tea blends and are associated with specific times or types of meal.
Black Breakfast Teas
Assam tea is grown in India, Burma and Tibet at elevations of between 3000 and 7000 ft. Assam brews to a darker color than Chinese teas and it has a deeper, maltier and more pronounced taste. Although typical in English breakfast blends, the spicy and rich malt flavor means Assam can be drunk in the afternoon, or indeed any other time of the day!
Ceylon teas can vary greatly depending on where they are grown in Sri Lanka, as although this is a small island, it has much variation in its elevations. However, most Ceylon teas are generally full bodied, bold and brisk with some notes of chocolate, citrus or spice.
The traditional English breakfast tea is full bodied and blended, usually from smaller leaf teas grown in Sri Lanka and India. It can also contain leaves from Kenya and China. An English breakfast tea should go well with milk and sugar and should suit a traditional and hearty English breakfast.
Interestingly, the name English breakfast tea was though to have been coined in the US in 1843 when an English immigrant tea merchant in New York City started blending tea which sold for 50 cents per pound.
An Irish breakfast tea is stronger and more complex than an English breakfast tea and is usually a blend of Assam and Ceylon.
Black Luncheon Teas
Darjeeling has a flavor sometimes described as honeyed fruit and it also has a lovely aroma. As Darjeeling availability is limited, it is usually blended. Darjeeling is well suited as a traditional afternoon tea and its complex, yet subtle taste goes well with spicier foods. China black tea also has a mild flavor and is suitable for serving with spicy foods.
Black Dinner Teas
Keemun is a Chinese black tea which has a full bodied, rich and strong flavor. Keemun also has smoky overtones and a floral aroma which compliments many Asian foods. Kenyan teas usually have a brisk flavor and rich flowery aroma that suit meals with poultry or wild meats.
Although oolongs can vary in their oxidation levels, some oolongs are almost fully oxidized which puts them with black teas rather than greens. An oolong should usually be served black and its peachy taste suits spicier meals.
Hosting Afternoon Tea
Having afternoon tea, or a tea party is an ideal way to get together with friends, celebrate a baby shower, birthday, anniversary or any other type of celebration.
Usually served around 4:00 p.m., afternoon tea was made fashionable in the nineteenth century when evening meals would be served around 8:00 p.m. which left a long gap between lunch(eon) and dinner. The Seventh Duchess of Bedford along with her friends is thought to have started the tea trend and even today, around 165 million cups of tea are drunk every day in Britain.
Otherwise known as ‘having tea’ not ‘taking tea’ or ‘high tea’ (which was a traditionally a larger meal eaten around 5:00 p.m.), a traditional afternoon tea comprises of a pot of loose tea - tea bags would be frowned up on - alongside a pot of hot water, teacups, saucers, milk jug, sugar bowl, tea strainer and other accessories, including napkins for spreading on laps.
If you are hosting a more formal and larger tea party, then you may want to provide three or four tea pots of different teas.
A selection of small or finger sandwiches should be served, alongside cakes and scones. A scone is an individual cake which is broken up and typically eaten with jam and clotted cream. When scones are served at afternoon tea, this may also be called a ‘cream tea’.
The tea should be poured into teacups by one person only and then milk and sugar passed around to add as required, or if you have brewed teas such as Earl Grey or lapsang souchong, then lemon slices should be passed around as well.
When you add milk to tea, its tannins are fixed by the casein in the milk and this causes tea to lose its astringency. Milk may be added before tea is poured instead of after; especially if using porcelain teacups as the milk can help stop the porcelain from cracking when the hot tea is poured in.
Drinking tea with milk seems to date back to around the 1680s when a French writer, Madame de Sevigne, suggested that an ill friend drank milk, but because the temperature of the milk would be unfavorable, she should add hot tea. By the middle of the eighteenth century, tea with milk was the custom in both France and England.
Tea should be stirred by moving the teaspoon back and forth (from 6:00 p.m. to 12:00 p.m.) rather than in large circles and avoiding clinking the spoon against the teacup. Once you have finished stirring, the spoon can be placed on the saucer at the side of the teacup. You can then place your napkin on your lap before holding your cup and saucer up and over the napkin and sip your tea while keeping your little finger firmly down! In between sips, the teacup should be placed back onto the saucer.
When sandwiches are passed around, it is acceptable to just put one sandwich onto your plate and however small it may be, you should eat it in more than one bite.
Once you have finished eating and drinking, your napkin should be left unfolded to the left side of your place setting or cup and saucer once set down on the table.
In this article we have looked at the flavor of black teas such as Assam, Ceylon and Darjeeling which are often found in English teas, as well as how these teas are graded. We also considered what to look for when choosing an English tea; not least that it should be a blend which can be served with milk. We have also had a quick look at some of the etiquette involved in having afternoon tea.We hope that you have enjoyed our review of the best English tea and that you now feel confident in selecting an English tea, whether you would like to brew it iced, hot or even host a tea party.
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