Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Steeped in History: 50 Shades of Earl Grey!

Earl Grey is a very popular tea especially drunk for breakfast and Afternoon Tea. It is a black (red)  tea that has been flavoured with the oils from the rind of a bergamot orange (Citrus bergamia). These oranges are grown commercially in the Mediterranean, mainly Italy. They give Earl Grey its distinct citrus and floral, aroma and taste. Originally, a Keemun tea from China was used, but now it's often prepared using teas from Sri Lanka.

The tea was named after an English politician named Charles Grey, the 2nd. He gained the title of “Earl” after the passing of his father, Charles Grey, the 1st. The 2nd Grey was a member of the Whig Party and he went on to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom holding office from 1830 – 1834. His most notable achievements were the Reform Act 1832 and the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. 

Grey Matter

How did the tea get its name? Well, it's not all black or white. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a definitive answer. There are many stories surrounding its origins each with its own variation. Some popular suggestions include the following:

  • The recipe was created and given as a gift to Earl Charles Grey by a man whose son was saved from drowning by Grey while visiting China. However, there is no record of Grey ever having travelled to China.
  • The blend was created by a Chinese friend of Grey’s in order to offset the mineral taste of the water where Grey lived. The story goes on to say that Grey’s wife, Mary Elizabeth, served it often when entertaining guests. Apparently, a tea company called Twinings began creating and selling it after its popularity grew.  
  • Jacksons of Piccadilly, a competitor of Twinings at that time, also claimed to have created the recipe in honour of Earl Charles Grey. This tea merchant was later bought out by Twinings. 

The Oxford English Dictionary even put out an appeal to the public for any information on the teas origins. There are various dates and reports on the mention of a tea or mixture flavoured with bergamot. Though nothing has been confirmed, Earl Grey continues to be one of the most popular teas.

You can find different twists to the original blend. Some variations include:

  • Lady Grey:  Earl Grey mixed with blue cornflower blossoms
  • Earl Green:  Green tea perfumed with bergamot orange
  • Russian Earl Grey:  Pieces of citrus peel mixed into Earl Grey
  • Earl Rooibos:  A tisane flavoured with bergamot orange
  • London Fog:  An Earl Grey tea latte and vanilla syrup

Earl Grey tea also makes a great cooking ingredient to create wonderful sauces, broths, and even as a component in baked goods. I have taken some baking classes in the past, so, I may share a recipe with you for a little something using Earl Grey, with a twist of course!



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