Earl Grey Tea

 

Earl Grey Tea

Earl Grey is a black tea base that is then flavored with oil from the rind of bergamot orange, a fruit is mostly grown in parts of Italy. Variations on the traditional blend include Lady Grey (a blend of Earl Grey with blue cornflower blossoms), Russian Earl Grey (Earl Grey with pieces of citrus peel) and also Red Earl Grey (rooibos and bergamot).

 

Charles Grey

The person responsible for the name of the tea is Charles Grey (1764-1845). Charles was an English aristocrat who was educated in Eton and Cambridge, one of the best private schools and universities in the united kingdom and elected to Parliament at the very young age of 22. He then married Mary Elizabeth Ponsonby (daughter of Baron Ponsonby of Imokilly, Co. Cork, Ireland) and had six daughters (1 stillborn) and ten sons having very large families at this time was not uncommon. Before he was married, he had an illegitimate daughter with the Duchess of Devonshire, which is the subject of the 2008 movie, “The Duchess”. He was a member of the Whig party and became foreign secretary in 1806 but a dispute over the rights of Catholics ended that appointment. He inherited the title of Earl when his father passed away in 1807 and became a member of the House of Lords. Charles Grey, the second Earl Grey was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 22 November 1830 to 9 July 1834. He was noted for advocating parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation. Two of his most notable reforms were the Reform Act of 1832 and the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 but interestingly, the monopoly of the East India Company in Britain’s trade with China ended while he was prime minister. He is commemorated through a statue at the center of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Grey College in Durham.

 

How he became associated with the tea is a little unclear. There are many stories of good deeds in China that resulted in the recipe for the tea coming to his ownership. Another version tells how the blend was created by complete accident when a gift of tea and bergamot oranges happened to be shipped together from diplomats in China and the fruit flavor was absorbed by the tea during shipping over many weeks. And another version of this story involves a Chinese mandarin close friend of the Earl blending this tea to remove the taste of minerals in the local water at his family home (Howick Hall, Northumberland, England). To be honest, it's not absolutely clear why this tea was named after Charles Grey. Jackson’s of Piccadilly say that they introduced this blend in 1836 “to meet with the wishes of a former Earl Grey”. Researchers at the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) issued an appeal in 2012 to find the very earliest evidence of Earl Grey referring to any tea. The first reference to bergamot-flavored tea was found in 1824.  In contrast to later associations, it seems that at that time it was used unfavorably to enhance the taste of a very low-quality tea. This led the OED to conclude that it was “rather unlikely” that Charles Grey, the second Earl championed or recommended the tea.