Earl Grey Tea: The hype and the hope

Many moons ago, a British aristocrat – an Earl to be precise – arrived at a flavour combination so bold and striking, it was deemed worthy of the peerage and christened the ‘Earl Grey’ tea.

The Earl Grey tea or Grey’s tea is a mixture of black tea and bergamot oil. It’s believed to have been first consumed by Charles Grey, the 2nd of his name and the Prime Minister of Britain between 1830 and 1834. Now how the Earl ended up in possession of such a tea is a disputable tale, but most versions of it make reference to a Mandarin gentleman, Chinese black tea, and the insipid waters of Howick Hall.

History of the Earl Grey Tea

One tale of it tells of a gentleman from China who, indebted to the Prime Minister for the service of men in saving the man’s son from drowning, decided to gift the Earl some special tea. He is believed to have presented a fragrant tea, which smelled of citrus and orange. The Earl, however, was more taken by the tea than the gesture of it. It’s believed that the Earl had the tea specially commissioned for him and for his close association with the blend the tea was named Earl Grey.

A more believable story is the one where the Earl commissions a blend that could take to the lime-rich waters of Howick Hall. A Mandarin tea seller is believed to have put together the winning blend featuring a Chinese black tea infused with the oil of bergamot fruit. The citrus in the oil and then tannins in the tea worked the lime in the water, delivering appetizing flavours and a wholesome cup experience.

Either way, the blend made its way through to the Earl and since then has been a part of the cultural history of Britain. The Earl’s wife is believed to have hosted her guests to the tea, and so have the queens of England since.

No one really knows how the blend came to stick with the aristocrats. Perhaps it just grew into nobility after the Earl’s endorsement. Or that the Grey made the grey in the Britain skies brighter. Something about the tea made it timeless and, therefore, a classic.

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The flimflam

Earl Grey tea, as modest as it sounds, is just black tea infused with the oil of bergamot. But the combination of flavours is so magical and ‘one’ that you would think that it’s ‘meant to be’.

Bergamot has a potent taste. It’s pungent, intoxicating, heady, and completely overwhelming. But, when mixed with a black tea, the tannins and the citrus render this beautiful symphony of flavours that dances around the senses. There’s malt and cream, sharp hits of lime, then some orange, and then the astringency – at once there are edges and smooth notes in the cup. The flavours are expectedly buoyant and throughout the length of the cup they remain so. Spiked with some sugar or honey, it turns into this nourishing brew that refreshes. That’s the word for Earl Grey – refreshing!

Everybody loves Earl Grey

Earl Grey tea is a classic. It’s a permanent feature in tea menus everywhere and there’s something universal about it. But the greatest thing about Earl Grey is that it always finds its way into the present. Thanks to modern tea blenders and their ingenious ways, this tea somehow manages to morph and evolve into something that’s so true-to-the-times, as if it was only just created. Today, it’s not uncommon to spot the uber-healthy green earl grey in yoga centres, a lavender earl grey at a spa or a lapsang souchong flavoured with bergamot parked perfectly between the classics at a high-end tea room. But that’s the thing about classics – they always manage to find their way into the present. They fit right in with the trends, and in the case of Earl Grey, quite fashionably too. Who knows what’s next for/in Earl Grey. But there’s going to be a next, that’s for sure.

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Have you tried an Earl Grey tea? How about one made with an Assam black tea?

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