Breakfast versus afternoon tea

What is it about a tea that renders it suitable for a particular time of day?

It turns out that “breakfast tea” and “afternoon tea” have no particular standard definitions, but there are conventions. In general, a breakfast tea has a higher caffeine content, while an afternoon tea is meant to create “the perfect feel for a day winding down”. No amount of caffeine gives me a “winding down” feeling (just “winding up”!), but at least this way I can pick an afternoon tea if I want a smaller dose in the morning.

There’s also an interesting historical evolution of the content of a cup of tea that was dictated by the availability of tea imports from different parts of the world (originally China, then also India and Africa).

And what about English, Irish, and Scottish breakfast teas? Here’s a capsule summary (full details):

  • English breakfast: Full-bodied and rich. Originally a China black tea but now frequently includes a strong Ceylon tea component. May also include teas from Assam, Africa, and/or Indonesia.
  • Irish breakfast: More robust than English breakfast. Generally has a strong Assam component, giving it a malty flavor.
  • Scottish breakfast: Typically the strongest of the three. May include teas from China, Assam, Ceylon, Africa, and/or Indonesia.

A malty flavor in tea? I’ll have to pay more attention next time I get to try an Irish variant. The increase in strength for the Scottish breakfast blend is hypothesized to arise from their softer water (took more/stronger leaves to brew?).

Many sources characterize the different tea types (black, green, white, etc.) as having different amounts of caffeine (e.g., Choice Organic Tea’s tea guide). However, there are no industry standards, and tea packages do not typically indicating the caffeine content. Empirical studies have found that caffeine content ranges all over the map for all types of tea. Some example studies (interesting reading!):

Neither study did a breakdown of caffeine content for breakfast vs. afternoon teas, although Friedman et al. reported higher amounts of theaflavins (a beneficial antioxidant) in breakfast teas.

The Chin et al. study also found that brewing your tea in 8 ounces of water yields more caffeine than using 6 ounces (but about the same rate per ounce) and that at least half of the caffeine is extracted after just 1 minute of brewing.

(By the way: what an awesome research topic! Sounds like fun times in the lab.)

1 Comment
1 of 1 people learned something from this entry.

  1. Joe Bend said,

    July 5, 2020 at 5:21 am

    (Learned something new!)

    Thanks for this helpful and inspiring summary of one of the most complicated and impenetrable nutritial phenomenons of our times 😋

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