Indians take immense pride in their love for tea, but did you know, until the British decided to challenge China’s monopoly in the tea market and established multiple tea estates in India during their rule, Indians knew (or cared) little about tea as a leisurely beverage? The British, specifically the elite, made no qualms about their affinity for the beverage. Since 16th century AD, the English would set sail for the new varieties of tea, in the process they gave birth to a delightful tea-drinking culture that would bring together friends and families for a cup or two, snacks were planned accordingly. Many noble Englishmen are also credited for new varieties of tea. Earl Grey tea for example, is a kind of tea every tea connoisseur can talk hours about. So, what is Earl Grey tea? And what’s the story behind that unique name? Let’s find out.  

What is Earl Grey Tea? What Makes It So Special

It should be understood that Earl Grey tea is not a type of tea leaf but a tea blend. It is black tea that comes with the addition of the oil of bergamot, that is right, it is this aromatic oil with citric notes that makes this tea so special. Bergamot orange is a fragrant citrus fruit, which is grown in winters, it is a cross between citrus limetta (sweet orange) and citrus aurantium (bitter orange). Earl Grey tea goes also through oxidation, like other black teas, which makes it stronger in flavour. Occasionally, green tea is also used in the blend, but in that case, oxidation process is skipped. After oxidation, the black tea is either coated or sprayed with bergamot essential oil, or dried bergamot orange rind are added to the tea.  

The Story Behind The Unique Name

It is said that the tea or tea mixture was named after Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey. The Former British Prime Minister is credited for authoring Reform Bill of 1832 and the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. Legends say that he was gifted this unique tea flavoured with bergamot oil, for ending the monopoly held by East India Company on trade between Britain and China. The ‘Grey’s Tea’ became a common fixture in the 1850’s England, however, the first known references can be traced to the advertisements by Charlton & Co. of Jermyn Street in London, thirty years later.  

There’s another popular legend according to which, this delicious tea blend was a gift to the Earl by a Chinese Mandarin. His son was saved from drowning by one of Lord Grey’s men, the overwhelmed mandarin apparently presented the flavoured tea to the Earl in 1803. However, many historians have found many discrepancies in the theory, since Earl Great never really visited China, nor was China known for their practice of adding bergamot oil to scent their tea at the time. The theory was, however, later corrected by many experts, stating that an envoy brought the tea to the Earl’s family upon his return from China.  

Lady Grey was said to be a fantastic hostess. At Howick Hall, the ancestral seat of the Earls Greys since 1319, Lady Grey used to serve this tea that was specially blended by a Chinese Mandarin. It would help offset, the dominance of the lime in local water and impart this wonderful flavour to the tea. The tea caught on like a house on fire and she was asked if she was willing to bring it to the market, and this is how Twinnings association with Earl Grey Tea came into being, according to one legend.  

That’s not all, Jacksons of Picadilly claim that they are the original creators of Earl Grey tea, and that Lord Grey handed the recipe to Robert Jackson & Co. partner George Charlton in 1830. The developed the recipe, and this original recipe involving Chinese black tea has been in constant production since then.

There are multiple legends associated with the tea, which somewhere is testament to the tea’s popularity. Many people in the United Kingdom still consider the tea as a ‘posh’ affair. Have you tried the Earl Great Tea? Do let us know in the comments below.