Earl Grey Tea Origins
Earl Grey, the quintessential tea of England’s upper society and afternoon tea scene is assumed to have been named after Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl Grey. He was most famously known as the Prime Minister of England in the 1830s and the author of the Reform Bill of 1832 and the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.
Earl Grey gets its signature taste from the oil extract of the bergamot orange, an orange grown in Calabria, Italy. There are a few different stories behind the origins of Earl Grey, some with more merit than others. The first story is of how Charles Grey, saved the life of a Chinese man, or the man’s son and was given the tea as a gift. Except there is one big part of that story missing, Charles Grey had never been to China. The second story, which is more likely, consisted of the tea being given to Lord Grey as a gift for opening up trade routes in the East Indian Company’s regions. Helping to reduce the monopoly that the East India Company had in the area.
According to Grey family history the original blend was created by a Chinese man for Lord Grey, with bergamot oil to show respect for being given lime in their water at Howick Hall in Northumberland. Though more likely it is believed that Lord Grey was given or purchased a high quality Chinese black tea and when it ran out he blended a lower quality tea with bergamot oil. The habit of blending teas with bergamot oils and other oil infusions was a popular trick to help mask the taste of high mineral content in the water and as mentioned above, to hide the taste of a lower quality tea.
Lady Grey used this signature blend as she entertained in London’s High Society, which is how this particular tea blend became so popular among England’s elite. As Earl Grey spread throughout there are some disputes on who has the original recipe. The first record of Earl Grey in the press appeared in the 1880s. The company, Jacksons of Piccadilly, claim that Charles Grey gave the original recipe to Robert Jackson & Co partner George Charlton in 1830. The second company to claim the original recipe is Twinings of London. The sixth Earl of Grey, Richard endorsed their version of Earl Grey and even allowed his signature to be included on the box of tea. Twinings also has the trademark for “Lady Grey”. Lastly the East India Company lays claim to the recipe by stating theirs is the original recipe but it uses Neroli Oil, oil from a bitter orange instead of the bergamot orange.
Regardless of when, where and how Earl Grey was invented it is undisputed that it is regarded as one of the most popular teas in the world.
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