Earl Grey (Earl Gray) Tea – A British Classic
Earl Grey Tea (sometimes mistakenly spelled as Earl Gray Tea) was first introduced in 1830, and is known for its distinctive flavor, which comes from the mixing of black tea from China with oils taken from the rind of the bergamot orange. As with all timeless classics, however, there is a bit of a mystery surrounding the tea’s true origins.
What is known for certain is that the blend was named for the Second Earl Grey, who was a British Prime Minister in the 1830’s. According to some stories, the blend was presented to him by a Chinese Mandarin whose son was saved from drowning by one of Lord Grey’s men. Other accounts have the tea arriving as a gift given to one of Lord Grey’s envoys, while he was traveling in China, with orders to deliver it to his Lord upon his return to England. Yet another account holds that the original recipe was given to George Charlton by Earl Grey himself. Mr. Charlton was a partner in Jackson & Co., and Jackson of Piccadilly claims that the recipe has been in constant production since, and has never left their hands.
To add an additional twist to the myth of how the tea came to be, the Grey family themselves reports that the blend was created by a Chinese Mandarin for them, specifically to suit the water at Howick Hall in Northumberland (which is the Grey Family Seat). Bergamot was chosen in particular to help offset the high lime content in the local water supply in that area, and the blend first gained prominence because Lady Grey used it for entertaining in London, and was eventually asked if it could be sold to a broader market. In order to facilitate this, a company called Twinings was given the recipe, and marketed it from that point on as ‘Earl Grey Tea.’ (note that although many websites, and even a fair number of printed materials list it as ‘Earl Gray Tea’ there is no brand bearing that particular spelling. This is mostly a function of slight differences between the Queen’s English and American English).
Whichever of these stories is ultimately correct (and it is possible that all of them contain certain essential truths), one thing that can be fairly said is that Earl Grey Tea, by whatever spelling, is probably the best known of the English teas, at least on the international stage. There have been countless references to it in books, movies, and television series over the years, and its distinctive flavor makes it hard to forget!
Having said that though, it should be noted that Earl Grey Tea is not just used for drinking. It is used as a flavoring in a number of cakes, sweets, and other assorted confectionaries, and can also be found in the ingredients list to help flavor sauces and chocolates. In the case of sauces, tea bags are usually included in with the basic stock, boiled for a time, then discarded as the rest of the sauce comes together. In the case of sweet recipes, a small amount of loose tea is sometimes added to hot cream or melted butter, then strained once these ingredients have soaked up the tea’s flavor.