black&white #29: Our take on the nation’s favourite
2 min steep
Last Thursday was National Tea Day, a day dedicated to Britain’s love of tea. While it was only set up in 2016 by a commercial ‘tea service solutions’ company, it made me think of Britain's enduring obsession with tea – in particular, the English Breakfast blend. According to the internet, we as a nation drink about 100 million cups of tea daily, with English Breakfast making up the vast majority of this. Even at Canton, a specialist tea company that sells high grade, single origin teas from around the world, the product that we sell the most of is Canton English Breakfast. Ours is, of course, in a different league from the kind you buy on supermarket shelves – but it's telling that even with the proliferation of greens, herbals and other types of tea, English Breakfast still dominates the market.
Tea picker at Emrok Tea in the Nandi Hills of Kenya.
But where did the blend originate? And why has it become such an unshakeable part of British culture? There are a few theories as to the origin of the English Breakfast, our favourite starts with a man called Richard Davies… Davies was an English apothecary that had an American genius for brand marketing. He decided to create a generic tea blend that would be instantly recognisable to consumers as authentic and consistently good quality – and attract rich and aspirational Americans. So, when it came to naming his new blend, he settled on ‘English Breakfast Tea’ – despite the infamous role tea had played in the American Revolution. The blend was, at this point, completely unknown back in England.
Davies’ English Breakfast was a heady mix of Chinese teas – black, (Congou), green (Flowery Pekoe), and a smattering of oolong (Pouchong). Canton 1843 is our special tribute to Davies’ blend, combining high grade Yunnan and Keemun black teas from Chinese, and Da Hong Pao oolong (also known as Big Red Robe). It was such a big success in New York and the rest of the US that it was exported to England – and the rest of the world. Queen Victoria is credited with popularising breakfast tea in the UK; she is said to have tasted and enjoyed such a blend in 1892 at the Balmoral residence, and returned home to London with a supply. Taken with milk and often sugar, English Breakfast quickly replaced other blends as the nation’s favourite.
Phil Mumby (on the left) at the Makomboki Garden in Kenya.
But what about English Breakfast blends today? Usually, a combination of Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan black teas. At Canton, we needed something quite complex – with the strength to be enjoyed with milk, but with the subtle flavour notes to also be enjoyed without. We first looked to the highlands of Kenya, sourcing two Kenyan black teas from the few gardens that produce the large twisted leaves we needed (Emrok and Kapchorua Tea Gardens). The other is a personal favourite of the blend’s creator Phil Mumby (also known as the Rare Tea Hunter) – and comes from a group of smallholder farmers called Makomboki near Mount Kenya, who intercrop tea among other food crops. We then turned to Rubaya Garden in Rwanda to add richness of flavour and the smooth texture that the region is renowned for. The conditions for growing are impeccable – with high altitude, hot temperatures and volcanic soil, the tea they produce is an essential part of our blend. And finally, we look to Assam for the cocoa maltiness that we all associate with a good English Breakfast tea. Our Assam is from Behora Garden and is a high-quality, small-leaf tea harvested in the early season for sweetness and flavour. We’ll sometimes swap in different gardens depending on quality and availability – but our commitment to ethical and transparent tea growing (and of course, flavour) remains the same.The result? A big, bright and beautifully full-bodied English Breakfast tea. Once our customers taste it, they’re usually fans for life. Buy it here.