Tealicious History: Earl Grey


I’ve always considered myself to be a tea drinker. With an incredibly British grandmother and a relatively British mother, I don’t think I ever had a choice in the matter. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good coffee, but I see it as something that lights up the nerve endings in my brain in the morning. It enables me to face the day in something other than an incoherent zombie-like state. But tea? To me it is the ultimate comfort drink. It’s an old friend that warms the body and soul and always cures what ails you.

A Shit Day at Work? Tea
Head Cold? Lemon and Honey Tea
Heartbreak? Tea
Upset Stomach? Ginger Tea
Natural Disaster? Tea
Apocalypse? Tea…with a shot of rum.

I once read a story about a woman who was shot in the head in her home. Miraculously, she was hit at such an angle that she was able to make herself a cup of tea whilst waiting for the police. I was always horrified by this prospect.  Not due to the brutality of the crime, but because I knew that this is exactly what the women of my family would do, including me.

Tea fixes everything.

I adore Earl Grey in particular. Nothing makes me happier than writing my blog whilst sipping on that wonderfully scented brew. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of trying it, Earl Grey is an intoxicating blend of black tea infused with the oil of bergamot, an Italian orange. It gives it a lovely zesty aroma and taste that I find enchanting.

Unfortunately, not everyone shares my correct opinion. I have heard my beloved Earl Grey described as tasting like dirty dish water mixed with detergent by the boyfriend some. Well to him those people I quite intelligently retort – Your face tastes like dirty dish water mixed with detergent. Yeah, take that.

The actual Earl Grey. He, unlike the tea, doesn’t look particularly appetising

So, who was Earl Grey and why on earth did he have a tea named after him? True to form, there are conflicting historical tales.

Charles Grey was the 2nd Earl of Grey and British Prime Minister between 1930 and 1834. He is still renowned for being one of the primary architects of the 1832 Reform Act. This act introduced a wide range of beneficial changes to the electoral systems in England and Wales.

The Grey family state that the tea was specially blended by a Chinese Mandarin for the Earl. Legend has it that it was made with bergamot oil to compliment the water on the Earl’s estate, which is said to have had a hint of lime to it.

Some believe that in 1803 one of the Earl’s men saved the aforementioned Mandarin’s son from drowning. He then showed his appreciation by presenting the Earl with the tea as a gift. However, bergamot oil wasn’t present in China at the time, and nor was the Earl. A far more likely story is that the Earl was presented with the tea by an envoy upon returning from a routine trip to China.

The belief in this origin story is universal, unless of you ask Twinings. Their website claims that they themselves developed it and named it after the Earl. Conveniently enough there is no explanation as to why. Every historian knows that it’s those who hold power that decide what version of history will be considered as truth, and this is no different, albeit on quite a small scale.

The tea rose in popularity due to Lady Grey, as she often used it to entertain guests in London. Others wished to purchase the tea and this is where Twinings most definitely became involved. They began mass producing the tea on a large scale and it quickly became a household name. Unfortunately for the Greys, they didn’t have the forethought to register the trademark. Subsequently, neither they nor their ancestors received any royalties from the sales of Earl or Lady Grey tea.

Because I’m sure you don’t know what tea looks like

For those who haven’t heard of Lady Grey, it was developed by Twinings and named after Lady Elizabeth Grey. It is far more delicate and fragrant than her husband’s counterpart. In addition to the bergamot oil, it contains both lemon and orange peel. I find it to have quite a flowery aroma and a very sweet taste.

Earl Grey has remained popular throughout the years and is used quite often in cooking and baking. I’ve personally tried Earl Grey flavoured macaroons and chocolate and they were both delicious.

I’d like to thank the lovely Katie for requesting this topic. As a result, I have decided to not only write about other teas, but to start an entire series on High Tea. I’ll most likely roll this out in September so it will coincide with  one of Habitat for Humanity’s annual events – High Tea for Habitat. It’s a fantastic and delicious way to raise money for a great cause. I urge you all to get a group together and participate. More info can be found at http://www.habitat.org.au/hightea.

Please leave a comment if you have a favourite tea that you would like me to explore the origins of. I absolutely love taking requests. Yes mum, I will definitely write about Russian Caravan for you.

Have a lovely weekend!

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