Canton Tea's Secret History and the Invention of English Breakfast Tea

Canton Tea's Secret History and the Invention of English Breakfast Tea

Did you know that the Canton Tea Co name has been around for more than 170 years? Below is a photograph of the St Louis, Missouri outlet in the late eighteenth century. And there's still a Canton Avenue in St Louis to this day.

When we set up the company in 2007, we chose the name because Canton was the old name of Guangzhou, the traditional port for China's tea trade and still a major centre for tea.  

We didn't know then that we had inadvertently followed in the footsteps of a pioneering US tea company that invented the world's favourite tea blend. Canton Tea Co was set up by Richard Davies in New York in 1843. Davies was an English apothecary but showed a typical 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. When it came to naming his new blend, the iconic role that tea had played in the American Revolution (google Boston Tea Party if you don’t know what we’re talking about) didn’t stop Davies from calling it ‘English Breakfast Tea’. At the time, this type of tea was almost unknown back in England.

Davies’ English Breakfast was a mix of Chinese teas. From our research it was a mix of black tea (Congou), green buds (Flowery Pekoe) and a smattering of oolong (Pouchong). The tea was a big success in New York and exported to England – and beyond – and soon became the Model T Ford of the tea world.

Which brings us back to the modern day Canton Tea Co: not only have we pioneered the supply of high-end Pouchong (from Farmer Xu's farm in Taipei county), we’ve also developed our own retro, high-end take on English Breakfast Tea. As an homage to the original we have recreated Davies’ iconic blend from a heady mix of Dian Hong (Yunnan Black), Keemun and Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe). We call it Canton 1843 – and it’s pretty special.

It was serendipity to call our business Canton, unaware we had such an illustrious and entrepreneurial heritage in creating the first English Breakfast blend - and now the world’s most ubiquitous tea. And it’s a curious and little known fact that this blend was invented in NYC. Pretty cool huh?

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