My First English Breakfast
As a child I never had need for an alarm
clock, as every morning my father would come into my room, open my
blinds, turn on my television and give me a hot cup of breakfast
tea, two sugars, not too milky, but not so strong that it would
cause my Grandmother to refer to it as 'Bull's Blood'. For years
this was how I drunk my tea: hot, strong, sweet and often. Tea is
my only real vice, the only reason I'm a morning person, and the
main reason why my dentist hates me.
I never thought too much about what was in my breakfast tea, but
as I realised that there were loose leaf varieties I began to pore
through them with the care of an archaeologist excavating a cave.
The flavours were stronger, more rounded and more developed than
those which I had tasted in the past, and I slowly began to wean
myself down to no sugar and a splash of milk, really tasting the
complexity of the tea.
We must thank Pitt The Younger for making tea such a
quintessentially British past time. In the early days of its
importation the high duties on tea made it an target for smugglers,
so Pitt The Younger cut the duties from 125% down to 25%, making it
available to the masses for the first time, seeing the obvious
majesty in the humble plant. The unifying, democratising nature of
the tea ceremony is present in this decision. A drink so beautiful
it should not be restricted to the ruling class. Tea is for
everyone, but despite the varieties, the blends, the grades
available, 'English Breakfast' remains the
most popular. Why is that?
Your typical English Breakfast tea is a blend
of malty, refreshing Assam and sweet, slightly spicy Ceylon. In
truth either one of these would make a fine morning pick-me-up, but
the combination of the two - surely a kind of imperial statement,
the combination of Indian and Sri Lankan produce to form the
cornerstone of British-ness - really starts to sing. Like the brush
drums and double bass in jazz music or the play of light and shade
in an Impressionist painting, the English Breakfast blend is truly
a case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts.
And so despite my exploration of other blends, my new found love
of Oolong, even my appreciation for the classic Earl Grey, a tea
which I found far too perfumed and repugnant as a stubborn teen, a
Pavlovian response always brings me back to English Breakfast in the morning
time. The only Breakfast I ever need.
By Harry Harris, August 2011