Earl Grey tea
Bergamot orange (Citrus bergamia) is a small citrus tree which blossoms during the winter and is grown commercially in Calabria, Italy. It is likely a hybrid of Citrus limetta and Citrus aurantium.
Tea flavoured with bergamot to imitate the more expensive types of Chinese tea has been known in England at least since the 1820s. In 1837 there is a record of court proceedings against Brocksop & Co. who were found to have supplied tea "artificially scented, and, drugged with bergamot in this country." A 'Grey's Tea' is known from the 1850s, but the first known published references to an 'Earl Grey' tea are advertisements by Charlton & Co. of Jermyn Street in London in the 1880s.
The Earl Grey blend, or "Earl Grey's Mixture", is assumed to be named after Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, British Prime Minister in the 1830s and author of the Reform Bill of 1832. Lord Grey reputedly received a gift, probably a diplomatic perquisite, of tea flavoured with bergamot oil.
According to one legend, a grateful Chinese mandarin whose son was rescued from drowning by one of Lord Grey's men first presented the blend to the Earl in 1803. The tale appears to be apocryphal, as Lord Grey never set foot in China and the use of bergamot oil to scent tea was then unknown in China. However, this tale is subsequently told (and slightly corrected) as on the Twinings website, as "having been presented by an envoy on his return from China".
Jacksons of Piccadilly claim they originated Earl Grey's Tea, Lord Grey having given the recipe to Robert Jackson & Co. partner George Charlton in 1830. According to Jacksons, the original recipe has been in constant production and has never left their hands. Theirs has been based on Chinese black tea since the beginning.
According to the Grey family, the tea was specially blended by a Chinese mandarin for Lord Grey, to suit the water at Howick Hall, the family seat in Northumberland, using bergamot in particular to offset the preponderance of lime in the local water. Lady Grey used it to entertain in London as a political hostess, and it proved so popular that she was asked if it could be sold to others, which is how Twinings came to market it as a brand.
"Earl Grey" (as applied to tea) is not trademarked, and numerous tea companies produce their own versions of Earl Grey tea, using a wide variety of tea leaves and additives. "Lady Grey", on the other hand, is a trademark of Twinings.
- There are different varieties of a tea known as Lady Grey; the two most common kinds (Lavender Lady Grey and Citrus Lady Grey), which combine Earl Grey tea with lavender and Seville oranges, respectively.
- A beverage called "London Fog" is a combination of Earl Grey, steamed milk and vanilla syrup.
- There are variations available including such ingredients as jasmine, as well as various flowers. A blend with added rose petals is known as French Earl Grey.
- A variety called Russian Earl Grey often contains ingredients such as citrus peels and lemon grass in addition to the usual black tea and bergamot.
- Also, several companies make a tea called Earl Grey Green or "Earl Green" tea, combining green tea leaves rather than the traditional black tea leaves with bergamot flavoring. A similar variation called Earl Grey White or "Earl White" tea combines white tea leaves with bergamot flavoring.
- Rooibos Earl Grey is a variation using this South African herbal tea as a substitute for the conventional form made with black tea.
Twinings reformulated their Earl Grey tea in April 2011, claiming to have added "an extra hint of bergamot and citrus". The overwhelmingly negative comments on the website were picked up by the press, who drew attention to the establishment of a related protest group on Facebook.
Use as a flavouring
Earl Grey tea is used as a flavouring for many types of cakes and confectionery, such as chocolates, as well as savoury sauces. For sauces, the flavour is normally created by adding tea bags to the basic stock, boiling for a few minutes and then discarding the bags. For sweet recipes, loose tea is often added to melted butter or hot cream and strained after the flavour is infused.
There is a considerable history of Earl Grey tea being used as a drink mixer, in particular for gin, within the British Isles, somewhat similar in principle to the Irish coffee, though this is seldom practiced today. During the later 19th century, poorer working class households began to combine the drinks as a minimum proof alcohol volume began to be meaningfully applied, following an 1855 revision to the Weights and Measures Act, to the relatively inexpensive spirit, making it unpalatable when taken neat. Being somewhat similarly flavoured, the two made for an affordable and pleasant pairing, in addition to which the necessary boiling during preparation helped disarm water-borne contaminants. The drink became associated briefly in the inter-war period with middle-class - particularly, female - alcoholism during the interwar years of the 20th century; it would occasionally be referred to during this time as a 'Moseley Tea Service', after the bourgeois area of Birmingham.
In several studies, application of high concentrations of some brands of bergamot oil directly to the skin was shown to increase redness after exposure to ultraviolet light; however, this should not apply to ordinary oral consumption of Earl Grey tea. Bergamot is a source of bergamottin which, along with the chemically related compound 6',7'-dihydroxybergamottin, is known to be responsible for the grapefruit juice effect in which the consumption of the juice affects the metabolism of a variety of pharmaceutical drugs.
In one case study, a patient who consumed four litres of Earl Grey tea per day reported muscle cramps, which were attributed to the function of the bergapten in bergamot oil as a potassium channel blocker. The symptoms subsided upon reducing his consumption of Earl Grey tea to one litre per day.
In popular culture
Earl Grey tea is among the most famous beverages in science fiction. In the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Jean-Luc Picard frequently ordered this blend of tea from the ship's replicator with the oral request "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot." The character Q, in the James Bond movie Skyfall, explained to Bond that he could do more damage on his laptop in his pajamas before his first cup of Earl Grey than Bond could do in a year in the field.
- Richardson, Ben (6 April 2006). "Bergamot growers get whiff of success". BBC News.
- Houston, Muiris (30 September 2002). "Have your cuppa, but go easy on the Earl Grey". The Irish Times.
...Bergamot contains the psoralen derivatives bergapten and bergamottin. The adverse effects of bergamot oil in this patient are explained by the action of bergapten as a potassium channel blocker within muscle cells. By interrupting the normal flow of potassium, the cells become hyperexcitable, leading to the visible movements and cramps within the muscles. By drinking four litres a day of Earl Grey (equivalent to at least 16 cups of tea), the Austrian man was simply overdosing on essence of bergamot.
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Stephen Twining traced back his family's business to the 1700s, when coffee houses as meeting places were the vogue. How ironic that it was in the company's coffee house where tea was introduced. Earl Grey tea makes Stephen Twining wish he could move back time because the company did not lay claim to the formula, or the name, when they had produced the blend for the British Prime Minister who was known as the second Earl Grey.
- Pagano, Margareta (3 July 1985). "The secret of Earl Grey tea is changing hands at last / Sale of Jacksons of Piccadilly to Fitch Lovell food manufacturing group". The Guardian (London).
The original secret formula for Earl Grey tea is changing hands after 155 years with its sole proprietors, the Jacksons of Piccadilly tea merchants... with the sale goes the special recipe of the Earl Grey blend which was entrusted to Robert Jackson's partner, George Charlton, in 1830 by the second Earl Grey. To this day the formula—which mixes black China tea with other unknown teas—has remained unaltered.
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Earl Grey shallot sauce.
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Chocolate dipped Earl Grey shortbread wedges.
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