Earl Grey, one of the most popular teas in the world, has a mysterious past. Where did it come from, when did it first appear on the tea scene, and who was THE Earl Grey?
While there are many variations of Earl Grey tea (Lady Grey, Double Earl Grey, or Russian Earl Grey), by definition, Earl Grey tea is a black tea that is flavored by the oil from the rind of the bergamot orange. These oranges are most commonly found in Italy.
While it’s easy to define what it is, it’s not so easy to define how it came about. Most recently, in 2012, researchers at the Oxford English Dictionary discovered the earliest known reference to bergamot-flavored tea was in 1824. At that time, it appears the flavoring was used to enhance lower quality teas. Not exactly a note-worthy start for a now-beloved tea!
Before this discovery, more glowing rumors and legends abound. Some of the more flattering ones:
– Earl Grey’s dear Mandarin friend was kind enough to create this blend to reduce the flavors of minerals found in the water of the Earl’s home.
– Because of some favors granted to China, the Earl was given the tea blend recipe as a thank you gift.
– Just as the discovery of tea itself was an accident (a tea leaf dropping into an Emperor’s cup of boiling water), the blend occurred when a shipment of tea and a shipment of bergamot oranges traversed the sea together in the same cargo hold and the tea absorbed the essence in passage.
Lovely tales, indeed!
The Earl Grey, himself, is a bit of a minor historical figure. Charles Grey inherited the title of Earl after the passing of his father, the first Earl Grey. He was Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834 and has two significant acts credited to his time in office (the Reform Act of 1832 and the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833). He also fathered a child out of wedlock (quite a scandal in those days!). While it might be useful lore to say the Earl himself had a hand in the creation or popularization of the tea blend bearing his name, my guess is that some cunning tea seller invented it (and a connection to a known political figure) to boost sales.
Regardless, there’s a reason Earl Grey is one of the most popular teas in the U.S. and the world. It’s delicious, plain and simple! One of Kat’s favorites is HEB’s Earl Grey. The experience begins with the steeping, as she inhales the combined scents of the malty black tea and the sweet citrus of the fragrant bergamot. We’ve found some Earl Grey teas that have too much bergamot, which can give a soapy taste, but this one has the perfect balance: just a hint of bright sweetness with the bold black tea. There are some days she adds milk and sugar and other days where she drinks it plain. It is both the height of luxury and a tea for everyman (or woman!).
What’s your favorite Earl Grey legend?