Tea, Earl Grey, Hot: A History of Earl Grey Tea
Probably one of the most famous tea blends, Earl Grey is traditionally a black tea flavored with the oil from the bergamot orange. It can be served black, with milk, or with a squeeze of lemon juice. The bergamot oil adds a fragrant flavor to the tea.
What's in a Name?
Earl Grey is actually a hereditary title of the British aristocracy. The title was created in 1806, and the second person to hold the title, Charles, 2nd Earl Grey, is the person who the tea blend is thought to be named after. The 2nd Earl Grey became Prime Minister of the UK in 1830, and oversaw the abolition of slavery across the British Empire and was author of the Great Reform Act, which updated and modified the electoral system in the UK. Today, his name is mostly remembered for the tea blend named after him.
There is still an Earl Grey peer today. Peter Grey, the 7th Earl Grey, is the great-great-grandson of Charles, 2nd Earl Grey.
Origins of the Blend
It is proposed that bergamot oil was added to cheaper black teas to emulate the fragrance of more expensive varieties. The blend has been known in England since at least the 1820s.
One origin story for the name tells that Charles, 2nd Earl Grey traveled to China. One of the men traveling with him saved a Chinese mandarin's son from drowning, and so Earl Grey was gifted a box of the tea blend. This is disputed, as there is no evidence that Earl Grey ever went to China. A more likely origin is that a British envoy to China brought the blend back to Earl Grey.
Jacksons of Piccadilly, a London tea house, claims to have originated Earl Grey tea for sale in the UK, having been given the recipe by Earl Grey in 1830. Now owned by Twinings, the company claimed to have never changed the recipe, which is based on black China tea. In 2011, Twinings reformulated their recipe a little, adding "an extra hint of bergamot and citrus". Comments on the change were overwhelmingly negative, and a Facebook group was even created to protest the change.
There are many variations to the traditional tea blend. One of the most well-known is Lady Grey, which adds cornflowers and Seville oranges for extra citrus flavor. This tea blend is available at Tina's Traditional under the name of "Lady Grace".
"London Fog" is a variation on Earl Grey invented in Vancouver, Canada. It is also known as an Earl Grey Tea Latte, as it is made with mostly hot milk. Vanilla syrup is also added. London Fog is popular across the Pacific North-west in British Columbia, and Oregon and Washington states. At Tina's Traditional we serve a London Fog Cake; a two-layered chocolate cake topped with Earl Grey Crème infused icing and drizzled with caramel.
Several companies also make "Earl Green" and "Earl White", using green and white teas as a base respectively.
Between WWI and WWII in the UK, Earl Grey was used as a drink mixer, usually with gin, similar in concept to the Irish Coffee. The gin and Earl Grey drink was called a Moseley Tea Service, named after the wealthy suburb of Birmingham where J R R Tolkien was born. It was very popular in the 1920s and 1930s, but using Earl Grey as a base for an alcoholic drink is rarely seen today.