Like it's Anglo-Saxon counterpart, reviewed here previously, Adagio's Irish Breakfast is an effective de-fatifying agent. It cuts through grease like a dish soap, but without all the unpleasant chemicals. As such, it's bold and abrasive flavors favor a heavy Western style breakfast. In my case, the Irish breakfast is a top notch liquid supplement to my standard morning fare of eggs and toast. Lipids stand no chance again the vorpal power of the Irish breakfast, which after wedging through the viscous wall of yolk and butter delivers all the good flavors and positive nutritive value of a proper gulp of tea.
Although Adagio, distributer if this fine tea agrees, they put it in a gentler way:
"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"
There is an added introspective into Irish Breakfast's elusive history.
"James Joyce, a gourmand as well as a prolific writer, began Ulysses with not one, but two Irish Breakfasts. His protagonist, Leopold Bloom, recounted every meal consumed on what is now known as Bloomsday. The meal, also known as Fry, is typically served all day long, and consists primarily of porridge, bacon, sausage, smoked salmon, eggs and tea. The latter was required equally strong, as it was customary to dilute it with milk. The teas of Ceylon and Assam were judged equal to the task. However, the proportion of each varies greatly from blend to blend."
Okay, perhaps not the strictest origin story of Irish Breakfast, but a fun morsel of history all the same.
Also, this appeared to once have been Adagio Irish Breakfast's backdrop, text saved from when I wrote up the notes for this tea.
The English required a tea strong enough to wash down their beloved Fry-up, a typical morning fare of fried bacon, sausage, mushroom, eggs and tomato. The black teas of Keemun were found to be an ideal lubricant for all this cholesterol. English Breakfast was also instrumental in the Monty Python spam sketch (waitress: Well, there's egg and bacon; egg, sausage and bacon; egg and spam; egg, bacon and spam...) that gave annoying and unsolicited emails their nickname.
We've established that the Adagio's Irish Breakfast is a fine morning tea, especially coupled with a heavy breakfast, but for this review here's the question I set out to answer: how do Irish Breakfast and English Breakfast differ?
Though I've tried to make their case for little or no blood-link, if one simply has to make a comparison between English and Irish Breakfast teas (and we will use Adadgio's versions for the sake of keeping our variables to a minimum) Adagio's English Breakfast is a very smoky tea with a cairn-ful of charcoal flavors. It tastes grilled, smoked, and even a bit meaty. It is bold, well rounded, soothing and supple. Though it is a tea, it might very well be a meal. The Irish Breakfast shares this same dark and tangible quality, but comes from a sharper flavor profile. The Irish Breakfast is more biting, with a harsh, tannic set of teeth. Oversteeping this tea, even a little, will result in a denigratingly foul taste. The sharp astringency of an oversteeped cup completely overwhelms the clear, dark and pungent earth tones resulting in an almost undrinkable brew. However, time it right and you've got a real fine cup of empowered, even pushy, tea.
Liquor & Leaf: Adagio's Irish Breakfast features all the dusky, gray charisma of a typical black tea, but with some desperately needed highlights of gold. Unlike it's English counterpart, the Irish Breakfast is a lighter gray and looks considerably more dusty. So much, in fact, that I gave this a traditional rinse before imbibing, mimicry of a sooty Industrial Revolution appreciated. It is, perhaps, the perfect color to match the droll gray clouds that hang above the green Irish hills.
Raw & Steeped Aroma: The Irish breakfast, of all sampled black teas, comes closest to resembling a stereotypical mass produced black tea, at least in its fragrance. The exotic Chinese black teas, English breakfast and Earl Greys all have their own very distinct flavors, but the very core of Adagio's Irish Breakfast was a core shared by denizens of the grocery store. The face most familiar, and the link between a lovely loose leaf Irish Breakfast and a common pouched tea will be iced tea. Unlike my mother, my sister and the entire South, I never took to iced tea. To me it had an off-putting quality, which sugar did nothing to hide. The addition of sweetener is to draping Quasimodo in a cocktail dress - nobody was fooled and the tea tasted all the worse for it. Sad to say, this sequestered, hideous flavor has somehow broken loose from the bonds of those giant fast food cups filled with bitter, iced brew. The astringency of the Irish Breakfast, that which sets it apart from Adagio's English Breakfast, closely resembles the smell of the iced tea, but keeps a safe distance from that other iced tea stuff. It is enough that the bitterness and astringency found in the Irish Breakfast is merely a familiar in iced teas, not duplicated from iced teas. Otherwise, the aroma is clear, sweet and hints at a deep, roasted caramel sweetness which I hope to meet again in the flavor.
Flavor & Palate: The notable similarities between the English and Irish breakfasts continue apace, as the Irish Breakfast once brewed takes on a very thick and heavy palate. Good thing too, as it's going to be crashing against the same linebacker breakfast foods I tested the English Breakfast with. Butter, egg yolk, syrup, whatever. It needs to be a contender for the drinker's already bombarded palate. And, just as I had hoped, the deep, roasted caramel flavor comes back amidst fanfare and protests. Fanfare because, well, it's sweet and roasty and delicious. Protest because the once tentative link between the Irish Breakfast and shallow iced tea is now entrenched in the tea's flavor. I am torn. The tea is hot, not cold, it is heavy, not light and the caramel sugariness seems somehow more sophisticated than its bumpkin' cousin at the soda machine. If there is a REAL and LEGITIMATE reason to find the Irish Breakfast off-putting, it is the bitterness. For some, this will be a heaven sent quality. For others, it will be forthrightly and disgustingly insulting. I am inbetween, finding the astringency a good companion with food, while it is over eager and off putting without. Still, it is a pleasant tea, if a bit punchy.
My early morning routine and daily breaking of the fast still belong exclusively to Adagio's English Breakfast. I can't get enough of that smoky, meaty flavor. It goes down well independently, and makes a fine match to heavy breakfast foods too, where the Irish Breakfast is a more specialized tool and harder to use in either situation. Still, I can't ignore my Irish roots and deign to go without a mug of Irish tea when the heaviest hitting breakfast foods come into play. Blood sausage anyone?