Everything tastes better with bergamot. This is why, despite being a flavored tea, Earl Grey is one of the most drunk brews worldwide. It is so cherished and celebrated around the globe, it has attracted a multitude of legends, has influenced civilizations and pop culture alike, even infamously being drunk in the future by the starship captain Picard always ordering “Tea, Earl Grey, hot.” According to the legends, adding bergamot to tea began with a man named Charles, Earl of Grey, who was a very successful British politician and prime minister of England from 1830 to 1834. It is said that Charles used to be a troublemaker before his political career set off, even having a well-documented affair with the Duchess of Devonshire, wife to the second most important man after the king himself. Maybe this is why some of the legends surrounding Charles’ favorite tea are so adventurous in spirit.
One claims, when travelling China as prime minister, he saved the son of a Mandarin, one of the highest-ranking people at the emperor’s court, from drowning in a river. To show gratitude for his son’s life, the Chinese father presented Charles with a fine black tea and a secret recipe. Was this the recipe for adding bergamot to tea? Unlikely, as there are no records of Charles ever visiting China nor proof that bergamot was even growing in the region at that time. Then maybe that other legend is true, in which Charles was travelling through India, saving the life of a different son, the prince and heir of a local Maharaja, from being eaten by a tiger. Possible. But likely? One legend surrounding Earl Grey has nothing to do with Charles whatsoever. According to this story, it was a fortunate accident. A ship carrying Chinese black tea and goods from the Mediterranean faced a storm on its way to England. The cargo was flying through the ship’s bilge and Italian bergamot oil spilt all over the precious tea. At first, the captain thought his cargo, and likely business, was ruined. But instead, the tea was even more delicious and Earl Grey was discovered. Or was it?
The most likely, yet most uneventful origin story of Earl Grey is that its namesake Charles simply enjoyed adding bergamot peel to his afternoon tea. But we prefer the legends. And so we set out to create our own and prove that everything does in fact taste better with bergamot. For our RED EARL N°826 we've taken South African Rooibos, with its lingering earthy honey notes, and suffused it with fragrant Italian bergamot citrus, to create a delicious caffeine-free version of the classic Earl Grey. Even though rooibos is not technically a tea, but a herbal infusion, the rooibos plant has a structure similar to camellia sinensis. The rooibos bush, called aspalathus linearis, is high in antioxidants and vitamin c. It has natural antihistamine properties and is caffeine-free, making Rooibos the perfect brew for anyone watching their caffeine intake or wanting to enjoy an Earl Grey before bedtime. Just as Champagne is unique to a specific French region, so Rooibos only flourishes in Cederberg, the Western Cape province of South Africa. And just like Champagne, Rooibos is a major industry in the Cederberg making use of the unique environmental conditions there. Similar to the relationship between Himalayan tea and its harsh environment, Cederberg’s desert climate with its prolonged sun hours pushes the rooibos plant to its limit resulting in deeper, more intense flavors. It’s no wonder this survivor of a plant has rich natural sweetness and warming honey notes to present.The story of Rooibos started over 300 years ago when the indigenous people of the area, the Khoisans, harvested the leaves from the aspalathus linearis plant to make herbal remedies for many ailments. And they loved the delicious, aromatic taste. Hence, Rooibos is a deeply African tradition whereas the origins of Earl Grey are heavily rooted in Europe. By combining Rooibos with bergamot oil, we want to reinterpret the classical concept of what Earl Grey is supposed to be and celebrate two of the most influential brews at the same time. The resulting cup of RED EARL N°826 is a beautiful fusion of two worlds, with zesty notes of orange, caramel sweetness and a woody, full-bodied texture.
Earl Grey has so much prestige and admiration, people have always told stories and legends about it. We know we will continue talking about it. And who knows, maybe the origin of Earl Grey started in Cederberg when Charles Grey saved the son of a Khoisan tribe leader from being eaten by a leopard. How would we know what really happened?