Earl Grey is a very popular blend of tea, and thanks to the name, is seen as being a typically English tea. This is a standard black tea, but it has been flavoured with bergamot oil, which is a type of orange. The oil is firstly taken from the rind of the fruit and added to the tea, creating a blend with a unique flavour. Many companies have started to produce an ‘Earl Grey’ variety, with other types of tea, such as green tea or oolong tea.
Flavouring tea with bergamot oil has been done since the early part of the 19th century. However, the name of Earl Grey was not used until the 1880s. Legal action was taken against a company in 1837, who were accused of ‘drugging’ the tea by adding bergamot oil.
The name of Earl Grey tea is thought to have been taken from that of a British Prime Minister. Charles Grey was the second Earl Grey, and it is believed he was given a diplomatic gift of tea which had bergamot oil added. One version of this story is that a Chinese diplomat gave this particular tea blend to the Earl as a thank you when one of the Earl’s men rescued his son. However, it is known that the Earl never actually went to China so this story would seem to be a red herring.
The Twinings website says that the Earl was presented with the tea when an envoy came back from China. However, the company, Jacksons of Piccadilly, claims that they had the original recipe, and have been using it ever since. They use Chinese black tea, and this has been the case since 1830.
The Grey family have a different version of the origins of Earl Grey tea. They claim it was specially blended for the Earl, and designed to suit the water quality at the family seat, Howick Hall. It is thought the use of bergamot helped to disguise the lime in the water. It is said that Lady Grey served the tea at gatherings in London, and agreed for it to be sold commercially by Twinings.
There are different varieties of Earl Grey. One of these is called Lady Grey, which is a combination of the traditional Earl Grey with either cornflower or Seville oranges. This variety is specific to the Twinings company. Tea enthusiasts might want to try something a little different such as ‘London Fog’, which is a blend of the tea with vanilla syrup and steamed milk. Some variations use jasmine or other flowers, and a popular variety in Europe is the French Earl Grey, which uses rose petals.
Earl Grey tea has become popular as a flavouring, and it is often used in cakes and chocolate bars, as well as a variety of savoury dishes.