Steeped in 156 years of history, Barbours: makers of King Cole Tea

Posted on July 14, 2023 | By Alexander Chafe | 1 Comment


Barbours’ production facility in Saint John, N.B. in 1925 (photo credit: Louis Merritt Harrison Collection)


If you’re having a drop of tea on Canada’s east coast, there’s a good chance that it’s a cup of King Cole. A Barbours product, King Cole Tea is a popular part of the company’s history. However, with over 150 years of operating in New Brunswick, there’s more to Barbours than just tea.

Early days

A company as old as Canada, Barbours was founded by brothers George and William Barbour in 1867. Barbours began as a food wholesaling business and initially set up shop in what is now Market Square in Saint John, New Brunswick.

After a decade in business, there was a brief interruption in operations when Barbours’ warehouse was lost in the Great Fire of Saint John. The brothers rebuilt and resumed as normal until 1895 when they sold the business to George’s son G.E. Barbour. Credited for adding tea and coffee to the company’s product offerings, G.E. had a major impact on the business.


A shipment of King Cole Tea being loaded in the 1920s (photo credit:


Kettle’s on

The King Cole Tea brand officially became part of Barbours in 1910. While today we know the brand as bagged tea, in the early days it was sold loose leaf. The invention of tea bags occurred in the early 1900s when a merchant in New York sent tea samples in silk pouches. Customers assumed that it was an intentional move to replace traditional infusers, which resulted in a more convenient way to enjoy a hot cup of tea.

As tea bags gained popularity, Barbours followed the trend and began producing pouched tea packaged in boxes (which have always had a touch of orange). By 1950, Barbours had expanded the King Cole brand to cupboards across Atlantic Canada.

Jars of Barbours’ nut butter (left) and packaged Barbours spices (right), made in Sussex, N.B. (photo credit: G.E. Barbour Inc.)


A dash of spice

With no natural heir to the family business, in the early 1950s Barbours was sold to Ralph Brenan. By this time the business had grown significantly through acquisition, however, operations have always remained Canadian. Bringing his experience of working with Red Rose Tea to the table, Brenan was well-equipped to lead Barbours forward.

Due to changes in the area, Barbours began looking for a new home in the ‘60s and received an intriguing offer from the Town of Sussex. The organization officially relocated from Saint John to Sussex, N.B. in 1966.

Over the years, the company expanded its product line, adding spices, popcorn seasoning and nut butter. Barbours’ flexible manufacturing facilities also allow them to produce private-label products, which became a major component of its business.


A cup of King Cole orange pekoe tea (photo credit: King Cole Tea on Facebook)


Still steeping

Today, Barbours continues operations in Sussex, N.B., producing its line of branded products, some of which are now shipped to the U.S. and Europe. And of course, Canadians across the country can still enjoy a cup of King Cole Tea, a Barbours-made product for over 100 years.


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One response to “Steeped in 156 years of history, Barbours: makers of King Cole Tea”

  1. miss Sussex ginger ale. now the big pop companies add poisonous preservatives and no real ginger. when I drank Sussex gingerale when I was sick,it made me feel great. maybe bring back Sussex pop,but make it natural. anyways I went to buy king cole tea at superstore ( loblaws) in calgary and they did not stock it. I live in marbourgh area in calgary, does Walmart carry your orange pekoe there?

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