Earl Grey's heritage

We all have heard this tea’s name once before, or even tasted a delicious cup of it. Earl Grey is one of the most popular scented teas around the globe. It is easily prepared and can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. This classic was named after Sir Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey - a British nobleman and prime minister, born in Fallodon, Northumberland, in 1764. At this time tea was already on its way to become the British beverage of choice.

Earl Grey usually is made of bergamot oil scented Black tea. Chinese tea was used in the very first recipes, yet later teas from Assam, Ceylon and Darjeeling also found their way into these formulas. Even at times when Charles Grey was still among the living, there were plentiful variations of this tea and also today the diversity of Earl Greys is ever-growing. In most cases, they share one thing in common: These teas are perfumed with a citrusy aroma, faithfully with bergamot.

This citrus fruit is thought to originate from a hybrid of sweet lime and bitter orange. It was first described in the middle of the 17th century. For the most part, the peel of the fruit is used for its abundance of essential oils which are widely used in perfumery, aromatherapy and, last but least, for scenting teas. Bergamot oil is known for its stimulating and uplifting effect on the mind. But the question remains, how did Black tea and bergamot meet?

The exact circumstances of how this tea came across are told in just as many adventurous stories as there are about the Earl himself. He enjoyed an eventful life both privately and politically: he was elected to the House of Commons for Northumberland at the age of just 22, he had an illegitimate child with the Duchess, later married Mary Ponsonby with whom he had ten sons and six daughters, and in 1807 inherited his father's title. At the age of 66, he became Prime Minister. After a few setbacks, he passed a groundbreaking parliamentary reform in 1832, obtained a ban on the slave trade in England and through him the East India Company's monopoly on the tea trade with China was lifted. This latter action led to the first theory on how this scented Black tea was named: Simply by honouring Sir Charles Grey for this achievement, the already existing tea was named after him. 

Modelled after the first true Earl Grey teas, we created our Golden Earl N°514. Exquisite gold tips from ancient Yunnan tea trees are gleaming with the natural aroma of bergamot. These vivid, citrusy nuances balance bold flavours with notes of honey and leather to create a lively cup. An intense tea experience.

Another story depicts how a merchant ship loaded with Chinese black tea and bergamot oil got caught in a storm off the British coast and so these valuable goods got mixed up. The cherished essential oil is said to have doused the tea and thus perfumed most of the cargo with its sunny fragrance. Once at the port, Prime Minister Grey decided not to dispose of the supposedly ruined tea immediately, but to try it first. The result was surprising: The mixture that was created by chance was a delight to the palate of the Brits. However, it remains a mystery how the Italian citrus fruit made it on board in the first place. 

This fact also weakens another legend’s credibility. A British diplomat is believed to have saved a Mandarin from drowning during his stay in China. For this honourable act, he received a special tea and its formula as a token of gratitude. It is not known who that rescuer was and neither you will find bergamots in China. Perhaps the tea was scented with other essential oils and it was only the British who used bergamot oil for blending. We'll probably never know for sure.

However, one thing remains: Earl Gray continues to delight tea lovers and connoisseurs around the world. There are countless variations of this classic and its concept is also used with other teas and herbs. In our White Earl N°107, we have combined a Chinese white tea with the zesty aroma of bergamot. This version stands out with a floral brightness and plays with the fruity aspects of this citrus fruit. Our Brave New Earl N°711 - an exquisite and utterly unique master blend - ushers you a little further into the modern age. We have refined this bergamot perfumed mixture of black and green tea with earthy juniper berries and sensual jasmine. Classic Earl Gray notes are embellished by aromas of pine, flower and orange. 

But this is not where our Earl Gret adventures end, as we've also created a savoury twist on the classic. Our GREEN EARL N°340 couples a fresh Japanese Sencha with the signature scent of fragrant Italian bergamot citrus. This bright green Earl Gray offers you the unbeatable power and complexity of green tea with the freshness of bergamot. And 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.

All our Earls are more than just suitable for the preparation of cold tea and make a great addition to the flavour of desserts and baked goods. Read everything on this topic in our Journal post “Ice Cold Pleasures” and “Culinary Compositions With Tea”.

Photo Credit: Foto Paetau; Bergamotte von Flickr's The Commons

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