It also happens to be the cheapest
We've covered the best coffee from the grocery store, but what about the other most important caffeine source, tea? While perhaps not the most popular breakfast beverage in the US, tea is my go-to every single morning. I take it without milk or sugar, and I like it over-steeped. (What? I drop my tea bag in my mug, get distracted by Slack, and before I know it, the tea bag's been in there for roughly 30 minutes and it's way stronger than it needs to be. I still drink it. And I still like it.) I'm not very picky with the type of tea, as long as it has caffeine. English breakfast tea, though, is a classic, and as such, I wanted to give it the taste test it deserves.
English breakfast is typically a blend of mostly Assam and Ceylon teas. It's supposed to be rich and full-bodied in flavor, and stand up well to any additions. I tried tea from seven major tea brands that actually labeled their tea "English breakfast." (There are many brands out there that label what might be considered English breakfast as "black tea.")
I made each cup of tea according to the directions on their box—instead of my normal steep-to-death technique—and then tasted all seven in a row without anything added. Here's what I discovered, from worst to best tasting tea:
Tazo English Breakfast Tea ($4 for 20 sachets)
To be blunt: Tazo tea didn't smell like much. It also didn't taste like much. It did, however, have a weird caramel-y aftertaste. Pass.
Taylors of Harrogate English Breakfast Tea ($8 for 50 sachets)
Without a very strong scent, Taylors was flatly tannin-y. The flavor seemed underdeveloped in a way that made me wonder if my super-steeping ways would have made it better. If not that, a note of sweetness would have gone a long way in making this bitter tea more pleasant.
Teapigs English Breakfast Tea ($9 for 15 sachets)
With a slightly odd toasted grass scent, this Teapigs tea smelled rich. Unfortunately, the taste doesn't deliver: It's tannin-heavy and bitter in a way that isn't balanced with any of the attempts at toasted or sweet flavors.
Twinings English Breakfast Tea ($4 for 20 sachets)
This easy-drinking English Breakfast tea is very pleasant but one-note. There's not a lot of dimension here. It's barely tannin-y, but still seems like if you weren't careful with your steeping, the bad kind of bitterness would sneak up on you fast. Any initial sweetness fades fast.
Harney & Sons English Breakfast Tea ($6 for 20 sachets)
Harney & Sons has a barley-sweet smell and strong enough tannins that you can smell them. While the taste is well-balanced—I feel like this one would be especially good with milk—it doesn't taste as rich as it smells. That said, the sweetness and bitterness linger pleasantly, and the aftertaste remains true to the initial flavors. This one's a really nice one (and the reusable tin is certainly a plus).
Stash English Breakfast Tea ($4 for 20 sachets)
With a grassy, toasty scent, Stash almost hid how smooth it tasted. Most English breakfast teas, no matter how good they taste, can be a little sharp. Stash had none of that sharpness. It was a nice combination of sweet and bitter. In my notes, I underlined the word lovely. It was a very close second to...
Ahmad English Breakfast Tea ($3 for 20 sachets)
Rich and sweet-smelling, Ahmad was promising right off the bat. When I took a sip, I was pleasantly surprised by a eucalyptus-y coolness that was rounded by a wildflower-honey-like sweetness. While appropriately tannin-y, this had none of the bitterness that can occasionally sneak in even perfectly steeped tea. This is our winner.