In so much of the world around us, we tend to do things simply because that is the way it has been. Have you ever wondered why it is we cut down trees, put them in our homes to be decorated and place presents under them? I’ve had a thousand of these types of questions, and always love finding the history behind some of the traditions we hold so dear.
With this premise in mind I’ve decided to find some of the meanings and origins behind the popular terms in the world of tea. I’ll call this the Origins Series. To start this series, we’ll focus on how Earl Grey tea got its name…
Earl Grey Tea
One of the most popular and storied teas in the world is undoubtedly Earl Grey, even if you’ve never tried it surely you’ve heard of it. Earl Grey tea is traditionally a black tea (often a blend of Chinese and Indian black teas) that is blended with Oil of Bergamot. Oil of Bergamot is extracted from the skin of the Bergamot Orange, a member of the citrus family that is used more for its oil extract than eating. The Bergamot is apparently a fairly sour-ish orange, although I’ve never eaten one. Being from Florida we have Orange Groves as far as the eye can see, even though I have never seen anyone grow Bergamot Oranges here. They are more a product of Italy. As far as aroma, Oil of Bergamot is very distinct, it’s one of those “you know it when you smell it” kind of things.
There are a few stories of how Earl Grey tea got its name, and while all of the details don’t play out the same there is one common factor. Charles Grey.
Who is Charles Grey?
Charles Grey (1764 – 1845) was an Englishman who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1830 – 1834. He began in politics in his early twenties, and was a natural Statesman by all accounts. Under his rule as Prime Minister slavery in the British Empire was abolished. His father, also named Charles Grey was a well known British General during the American Revolution. King George III gave the elder Grey the title of Earl for his service during the war. Thus, the name Earl Grey.
How Earl Grey tea got its name
I’m sure by now you have likely figured out how Earl Grey tea got its name. The name for Earl Grey Tea actually came from the younger Charles Grey, known as the second Earl Grey. There are a few variations on how black tea came to be blended with Oil of Bergamot and I will share them with you, but here.. take a grain of salt first!
One version of the story says that a Chinese Mandarin sent Grey a gift of Bergamot scented tea while he served as Prime Minister. When he ran out of the tea he commissioned Twinings, the revered English tea company to reproduce it.
Another slight variation on this story says that a Chinese Mandarin blended the mixture for the Grey family as a way to combat the strong taste of lime in the water at their residence.
The last version of this story I found says that Charles Earl himself shortly after becoming Prime Minister in 1830 poured a few drops of Bergamot Oil into his cup of tea, thus creating one of the most famous teas in History.
As stated above we know that regardless of which, if any of these story variations are truth it is quite obvious that the name for Earl Grey Tea is attributed to Charles Grey, the second Earl Grey.
The Tea Drinkers Handbook
The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea