Friday, November 16, 2007

Review: Adagio's English Breakfast

Of life's simple pleasures, few are as supremely satisfying and affordable as two eggs over easy served with two slices of toast. With proper seasoning and the courage to serve the egg on top of the toast, and maybe even a small glass of whole milk, it is a masochistic repast for the hardcore trencherman. The only problem is the immediate aftermath. Like any good festive binge the hangover can be a little unpleasant. The animal fats combined with the total absence of vitamins, minerals or fiber takes a terrible toll on the gut. It is only thanks to tea's restorative powers that I am once again able roll out of my cholesto-hibernation and greet the day. For a meal of this girth, an equally heavy tea is needed to combat the soporific effects of a greasy breakfast. Delicate white and green teas can do nothing, and their soft flavors are easily quashed by lingering butter and yolk. Oolongs could provide a respite from the tyrannical grease, but I argue they are too lenient in taste to accomplisn anything. No, only black tea has the muscle to wrest my body from the clutches of a sinfully unhealthy meal. The question is, which black tea?

How about the one designed expressly to be paired with a fatty breakfast? Indeed, the English have long provided their stout laborers and farmers with the gut-brick breakfasts that can keep a worker in a semi-conscious stupor. These meals may not endow the diner with the best feeling, but the old egg and toast classic keeps a man or woman going well into the darker hours of the day. When tea took English society by storm, it was only natural for the English to find a particular tea brew that could match the potency of a heavy English breakfast. Although the primary reason green tea fell from European favor was counterfeiting, I argue that a few intelligent chefs and frequent visitors of tea houses figured out that green teas were entirely inappropriate for the English meal, forever changing the tea drinking landscape of Europe. That's where the English Breakfast Tea was born, or so says my inchoate, impromptu mythology. Combining the solid, formidable and earthy base of Keemum, the English Breakfast is a blend more than capable of grappling with the heaviest, greasiest foods.

I had originally bought a canister of Adagio's English Breakfast for my father, who was looking for an alternative to coffee. I figured it would be somewhat close. Here's how Adagio tagged their version:

Black Keemun tea from the Anhui region of China. As its name implies, English Breakfast tea is an ideal accompaniment to a morning meal. Our exquisite version of this tea is made with the finest grade Keemun, prized for its rich smoky flavor, and sumptuous aroma. May be enjoyed plain or with a drop of milk. It remains one of our most popular varieties.

Black teas tend to be more straightforward in flavor and consistency, lacking the nuances of their white, yellow, green and Oolong cousins. At least on the surface. However, Dad courteously rejected my tea overtures, which in retrospect may have been due to me brewing up small pots of wildly oversteeped tea with the intense bitterness and flavor of spitoon crust. I adopted the orphaned English Breakfast and discovered its helpful role in quelling the postprandial protest of my delicious eggs and toast.

Liquor & Appearance: I suspect the English Breakfast is a seminal standard for the appearance of black tea. It's black. Couldn't be simpler. The leaves have that charcoal dustiness to them that gives the tea its traditionally processed look, alongside scattered gold spots. The liquor is expectedly murky. It's a very dark brown, almost black, like burnt or charred wood. It is also very cloudy, giving the impression of a terrifying all-consuming, yawning chasm the color of a nice mahogany. After suffering a severe case of vertigo and fatalism I stopped staring into the 12 oz. mug and proceeded to the aroma.

A nice, healthy looking black tea.

Aroma: Surprisingly, Adagio's English Breakfast's aroma is not very thick, solid or substantial. Rather, it's timidly thin. I expected a heavy set black tea to somehow have a more tumid aromatic texture, but alas, this tea is delicate and fragile. A good inhale conjures images of sweet root vegetables - yam, carrots and a complementary dark and sweet malts. It's quite pleasant to breath in, like a hearty aroma therapy, though the utter darkness of flavor makes the wan consistency seem even more out of place. Really, I've had green teas with a fuller aroma quality. Strange and emaciated as it may be, the English Breakfast's aroma is still a great match with breakfast.

Flavor: The English breakfast doesn't have a large, forward flinging flavor to smack the drinker. By that I mean at first its very quiet. Just a thick, hot water. About mid-taste it begins to take on an aged, earth quality with a fair bit of tannic bite. The drinker understands that its a tea, but it still tastes obtuse and unrefined. Like a tea from a mass produced bag. Even so, it is the meek tannic quality that so elegantly duels the left over greasy slathering on the tongue, ripping off the animal fats like velcro. After it has done this, the tea slowly transforms into a smoky, engaging and charcoaly drink in its aftertaste. This is its final fluorish, the last twitch to free itself from the cocoon and thus, in full form makes itself a splendid morning English Breakfast for breakfast.

There is, thus far, no reasonable substitute for this tea. It is firmly ingrained in my morning routine. Its absence, like any other single whit of my well versed morning, makes me cranky. No, it actually makes me feral. An empty can of English Breakfast sets off a most terrible reaction, inducing me to knocking over lamps and getting into heated barking contests with my 7 lb. dog. Thanfully, Adagio's English Breakfast is very reasonable priced and, as a black tea, doesn't require a lot of tea for an appropriate volume, so there's always plenty around.


Salsero said...

A very enjoyable post. Thanks.

James Thurber describes a similar problem with knocking over lamps in The Bear Who Let It Alone, first as a result of intemperate indulgence in liquor and later as a result of intemperate indulgence in teetotaling. Of course, besides lamps, the Thurber story also a reference to tee, though I doubt he had English Breakfast in mind.

Mary R said...

Once again, your prose puts me to shame. Lovely.

For something that'll really stand up to all the fat and cholesterol of a true fry-up, try Simple Leaf's American Breakfast. It's straight-up CTC Assam...and it'll kick your ass. I've given up trying to drink it straight--now it's the basis for my chai experimentations.

Garrett said...


Thanks for the kind words. Sadly, I am not familiar with Thurber's work, though his sympathy for tea and violence towards inanimate objects seems promising. Duly added to my reading list.

Sounds brutal. Like, really, really brutal - the moonshine of teas. I'll give it a go, but if my tastebuds shrivel away, you're to blame.