Extra. Extra. Get ready to read all about it (and by it, we mean a history of black teas with a little something extra added in)!
Fusion teas—also known as “flavoured teas”—are black or green teas that have been blended with other herbs, fruits, or oils to produce a brew that boasts extra tasting notes and an elevated flavour profile.
To give our tea lovers a full understanding of The Tea Centre’s range of quality black fusion teas, we’re going back-to-basics and starting with a 101 breakdown on flavoured black teas and their history across the world!
1600s | China invents the black tea
Who knew back in seventeenth-century China that adding something extra to your morning cuppa could brew up a whole new genre of tea! It all began, however, with the invention of black tea in the late Ming/early Qing dynasty.
Referred to as “red tea” by some, the hue of black tea ranges from warm copper tones to light amber, and has somewhat mythical beginnings. Semi-historical records tell us that only green teas and oolong teas were enjoyed in China until the 1600s when an army lay siege near a tea factory in the Fujian province, incidentally holding up its production of green tea.
Left to wither for longer in the sun, what was meant to be green tea further oxidised and became the black tea we know and love today! The first black tea ever invented was lapsang souchong, which was innovated when the same tea factory attempted to dry the black tea leaves further by placing them over open pinewood fires—giving lapsang souchong its distinctive smoky flavour.
After one experiment comes more experiments, and tea traders across China began infusing tea leaves with new ingredients ranging from jasmine (later found to better suit green tea blends) to bergamot oranges, peaches and even certain spices! Speaking of bergamot…
1836 | British Prime Minister becomes an eponym for your favourite black tea fusion
It seems that mythological origin stories and tea go hand-in-hand! While it is commonly understood that earl grey tea—black tea infused with bergamot—is named after the former British prime minister Charles Grey (i.e. the second Earl Grey), the reason why remains a mystery.
The most popular origin story is that earl grey was gifted to the prime minister from a Chinese mandarin after Charles Grey saved his son during a diplomatic mission to China. However, this is also considered the most far-fetched story given bergamots are native to the Mediterranean and would have been hard to find in China back in the 1800s…not to mention there’s no evidence that Charles ever went to China!
Alternatively, two London companies—Twinings of London and Jacksons of Piccadilly—both claim to have created the earl grey blend in 1836 after the prime minister personally requested a tea recipe that offset the bitterness of his estate’s water supply (which contained high levels of limescale at the time).
No matter the true origin story, what is not disputed is that earl grey is Australia’s favourite black tea fusion and fourth favourite tea overall! If you would like to see what all the fuss is about, pick up our loose leaf organic earl grey tea here or our convenient French earl grey tea bags tin here.
1904 | Black fusion tea becomes iced
The iced tea lovers among us will be peachy keen to hear about this! While earl grey tea reigns supreme in Australia, “sweet” tea takes the crown in the United States, where approximately 80% of tea consumed is actually iced!
Sweet tea is a popular iced black tea infused with peach or lemon plus sugar or simple syrup that has become ubiquitous with the American South. Historically, this association likely stems from the fact that the first American tea plantations were established in South Carolina back in 1795. While, once again, the origin of sweet tea is a little unclear, what we do know is that Englishman Richard Blechynden was the first to commercialise iced tea when he brewed it amidst a heatwave at the St. Louis World Fair in 1904.
This commercialisation popularised iced teas around the globe, with the most popular being black tea peach and lemon fusions. If you’d like to make iced tea at home, we suggest trying our tasty recipe with an Australian twist here.
1930s | Assam tea leaves are incorporated into chai
Did you know that while masala chai (‘spiced tea’ in Hindi) has been around for roughly 5000–9000 years as an Ayurvedic remedy, it was only during the 1930s that black tea was added as an ingredient?
This seems odd considering how often we see the two infused together, but the original chai recipe as it was brewed in the royal courts of ancient India and Siam (modern-day Thailand) was milk flavoured with spices. Some of these spices, such as cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and star anise, are still used in our fusion chai blends today!
The introduction of black tea to chai has colonial roots, tracing back to when the infamous East India Company began to heavily depend on their tea plantations in Assam, India, in an attempt to disrupt Chinese supply chains to Britain after they lost their monopoly on the tea trade to the country in 1935. While they manage to successfully revert the British population to drinking Indian or Ceylon (Sri Lankan) tea over tea from China, the company further attempted to increase sales in India by selling chai blended with Assam black tea leaves.
While they were somewhat successful, the ubiquity of adding black tea to chai didn’t truly kick off until the 1960s when CTC (cut, tear, curl) mechanical tea production was invented and greatly lowered the price of black tea. This made black tea accessible to everyone, and had the added benefit of popularising black chai blends such as masala chai and Mumbai chai across the world!
In modern times, chai has grown to incorporate black tea leaves from across the world. The Tea Centre’s own chai blends use Ceylon (Sri Lankan) tea leaves as they produce an equally strong flavour and match particularly well with our unique blend of spices.
2021 | Black tea fusions become some of The Tea Centre’s best-selling teas!
Whether you prefer black tea infused with fruits, roots, spices, or even iced, what The Tea Centre can’t dispute is that black tea fusions are some of our best-selling teas of all time!
That’s why we’ve gone the extra mile for our tea lovers and packaged blends like our Turkish delight, cream black, and earl grey blue flower tea in both loose leaf and tea bag tins. Why not taste the history and brew yourself a cup today?