Earl Grey Tea – The Popular Tea
Earl Grey tea is variety of black tea, blended from different cultivators. The flavor of Earl Grey is sweeter than that of standard back tea because of the addition of a certain ingredient – bergamot oil! Bergamot is a small and sour variety of orange-like citrus fruit.
It is native to Asia, and was commonly added to foods for its strong and citrus flavor. When the peel or rind of the bergamot orange is pressed, the resulting oil is often used in cooking. Was there a real Earl, and did he invent this version of tea? Yes, there was an Earl Grey, but, no, he didn’t invent the drink.
He was Charles Grey, the Second Earl Grey, and he was the Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1830 to 1834. It isn’t known how he came by the recipe for this tea, which he gave to the owners of the Jacksons of Piccadilly tea company in 1830. It is almost certain that Chinese diplomats sent the recipe to Grey as a gift after he won the position of Prime Minister.
A tall tale arose around the recipe, which was said to be a present from a grateful Chinese mandarin, whose son was rescued from drowning in a river by the Earl himself (or one of his men). This would have been an extraordinary feat, because the Earl never traveled to China throughout his life.
The tinting of tea with fruit flavors was common in China, but the unique strength of bergamot oil was perfect for the rosy sweetness of black tea. The brand took off and became one of the most popular in the tea-loving British Empire. Today most of the bergamot oil used in this tea is cultivated in Calabria, Italy, where it is also employed by perfumers!
The versatility of bergamot flavoring in this tea can be seen in the special brew called London Fog tea. By adding a heavy dose of steamed milk tothis tea and sweetening it with a drop or two of vanilla, you get a wonderful and wakeful beverage that is probably the best blend of dairy and citrus flavors in the world, dominated by the rosy flavor of black tea in the foreground.
In fact, the use of bergamot has dramatically increased in many different teas, as various American markets have become open to new food products. Today the label “Earl Grey tea” tends to indicate the presence of bergamot rather than the blending of Chinese black teas.
Jacksons of Picadilly has always insisted that the truest Earl Grey tea has been their own product since they received the recipe in 1830, and that it has been a constant seller since that date. They also assert that although the tea is a blend, it is composed entirely of Chinese leaves. In 1985, the recipe for the blend was sold with the Jacksons of Picadilly business to the British food conglomerate, Fitch Lovell. Fitch took especial care to assure the British public that the secret recipe would remain a national treasure, and today Earl Grey tea is more popular than ever!