Firstly I would like to clear up some lingering myths surrounding the production of the Irish breakfast tea:
- It is NOT fermented in Irish whiskey.
- It is NOT chewed in the poor Irish slums after a night on the drinks to freashen the mouth and impart unique flavour to the leaves.
- It is NOT Mixed with any form of potato products to add more body.
- Nor is it soaked in Guinness to add to the malty notes.
The main difference traditionally (according to a very reliable internet source *cough* wikipidia *cough*), is the use of the Assam region tea leaves (Lowland region of India) in the blend, which supposedly produces a stronger tea than that of Ceylon in Sri Lanka. The Irish you see, love a good strong brew (possibly to help shake the hangover and clear the drunken breath), and hence they have a specific blend prepared to reflect this. The tea does indeed have strong malty flavour to it; malty flavours seem to be the vogue in Ireland, a higher caffeine level, and a richer expression in flavours from the selected leaves.
Twinings have produced a stellar example of the Irish tea using the lowland Indian leaf which has a initially surprisingly similar character to that of both the Bell, and the Choysa Square; I am beginning to suspect that the southern Indian Assam leaf is used to produce the stronger blend that New Zealanders seem to like. The finish, however, is far, far better than the aforementioned varieties and therefore does not evoke images of licking the sole of a papermillworkers boot, but a subtlety that can be enjoyed for what it is.
Dilmah, in their preparation have used their hallmark Sri Lankan leaf with its fruity notes, essentially marketing their own unique take on the Irish blend. I found that it was more sweet and floral like the Ceylon, with a deeper malty finish… however, don’t overbrew it if you plan to drink it black… It takes on acrid undertone with the finish of burnt ants.
In general this tea is best enjoyed with milk, and for me personally I favour a Little bit of honey too. It makes for a great pick me up after a night on the drinks both hiding the hairy tongue after a night of the blended scotch, to clearing the head after the numerous bottles of cheap red wine.
Oh and finally… this variety of tea stains the heck out of white porcelain; my arms ache from all the scrubbing!