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History of Earl Grey Tea


Undoubtedly the most famous of tea blends, Earl Grey tea has made numerous appearances in popular culture but few know the origins of this unique brew which is a shame. To remedy this lapse of knowledge I’ve taken it upon myself to explain just how Earl Grey tea got its name and remarkable flavor. Start heating some water now and by the time you’ve finished this article, you can enjoy a fresh brew of Earl Grey tea!

In the 1830s there lived and Earl named Lord Charles Grey. He was the second Earl of his line and served as Prime Minister to King William IV. This was an era when the British Empire held great sway in the South Pacific and many of the Earls men were stationed in China. The legend goes that the Earl’s men saved a young Chinese boy from drowning and that the grateful mandarin father presented the famous tea blend as an expression of his gratitude. Even today Earl Grey goes by the nickname “Old Sticky” in England in homage to the famous Lord Charles Grey who was known for his foul odor.

But just what did the recipe entail? The tea gets its unique flavor from the oil extracted from the rind of the bergamot orange. This fruit causes the distinct fragrance which is given off by a freshly brewed cup of Earl Grey tea. Traditionally the term ‘Early Grey’ was only applied to black teas but is now applied to all sorts of tea treated with the special oil extract.

Knowing the key ingredients of Earl Grey casts doubt on the legend since historic facts show that bergamot was not cultivated in China at that time. Additionally, there are no records that indicate that Lord Grey ever set foot on these Chinese mainland. The Chinese are known as green tea drinkers but as I mentioned earlier, Earl Grey was traditionally a black tea blend.

So if the original legend is inaccurate, is there a better explanation of the tea’s origins? The tea producers Jacksons of Piccadilly claim the original recipe was given to George Carlton (a partner of Robert Jackson & Co.) in 1830. They claim the recipe has never left their hands and that it has been in constant production ever since. Which if these tales you chose to believe is up to you but while researching it, be sure to sit back and relax with a warm cup of Earl Grey Tea!