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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pictorial Tea Tour .................. CHARLES EARL GREY (c.1832)

Charles Earl Grey
The National Portrait Gallery, London

In 1832, Charles Earl Grey was the Prime Minister of Great Britain. The Earl Grey blend was named after him when he reputedly received a diplomatic gift of tea flavored with bergamot oil.

There are a couple of legends surrounding the gift. The first involves a grateful Chinese mandarin whose son was rescued from drowning by one of Lord Grey's men, although this blend of tea was first made from black Indian and Ceylon teas. Green tea is much more popular in China than black tea so it seems a bit unlikely that the Chinese would have had a recipe for what we now call Earl Grey to bestow on visitors. In addition, Lord Grey never set foot in China. Another version of the legend has the son of an Indian raja being rescued from a tiger by one of Grey's servants. We really don’t know how he first received the tea, but we do know that it was named after him.

The tea proved so popular in the Prime Minister's drawing room that his tea merchants, Twinings, were given a sample and asked to come up with a close match. Twinings sold the first "Earl Grey's tea" in the British market. Twinings Earl Grey blend includes China tea, Indian Darjeeling, Ceylon, and a hint of Lapsang Souchong.

Jacksons of Piccadilly claim that it was they who originated Earl Grey's Tea, Lord Grey having given the recipe to them first. According to Jacksons, the original recipe has been in constant production and has never left their hands. Theirs has been based on China tea since the beginning.

This rivalry between the two tea brands continues despite both being owned by the same parent company today.

Tea trivia: Earl Grey was the first scented tea drunk in the West.

(Purchase the Charles Earl Grey print here)

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