Tea: Earl Grey

Yet another sample chapter from my forthcoming book for your comments, arguments and abuse. Don’t be gentle with me.

Earl Grey used to be my favourite tea. It no longer is. That’s a positive and a negative.

As I left my teens behind; I started drinking a variety of teas. Shocking as it might seem now, I was mostly buying Twinnings teabags in those little 10-packs. China Black. Orange Pekoe. And Earl Grey.

I loved the taste of Earl Grey.

Perhaps I still do. I don’t know, it’s over 20 years since I had a cup.

When I was 25, I found out I was allergic to citrus fruits. I must avoid lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, and kumquats – the lot. And Bergamot is on that list.

No more Earl Grey for me.

And yet, it must make its way into this book. It’s an important tea.

There are multiple claimants to having invented it.

It is not true that the formula was a gift to an early Earl Grey from a grateful Chinese parent of a child his Lordship is variously supposed to have saved: that is just a story, probably invented to sell tea.

Jacksons of Piccadilly claim to have invented it. The Grey family say that they were gifted it by a Mandarin to overcome the taste of their local water, and later came to an arrangement with Twinnings.

(Mandarin? There’s another citrus fruit I love and can’t have!)

And Twinnings, of course, claim it. Certainly the signature of the current Earl on their packaging adds some legitimacy. It’s the only case I can think of which is a notable variation on the “by Royal Appointment” mark in Britain.

Before my sad breakup with Earl Grey Tea, I tried several loose leaf varieties. They had a unifying theme, yet had their differences.

And much later, when we owned a tea shop, people came from miles around for our incredibly strong Earl Grey. It competed, aroma versus aroma, with our Lapsang Souchong. And in addition to our Earl Grey, we had Russian Earl Grey (with a bit of Lapsang and lemon peel), Lady Grey (lemon and orange peels and rose petals, Mademoiselle Grey (rose petals), Green Sencha Earl Grey (green tea with bergamot oil) and even English Earl Grey.

What? English Earl Grey? Isn’t it English already? Apparently, adding Swiss cornflowers makes it more so.

We also had Latvian Earl Grey, created when our 84-year-old Latvian blending assistant forgot what he had put in halfway through making up the Earl Grey Blend. It was a one-of ten kilo lot we laughed at for some time. But it sold!

I’ve been in and about Earl Grey tea for so long. I see it being the life and soul of the party; a party I am a wallflower at.

I miss it. I have sampled hundreds and hundreds of teas since, and loved many of them.

Would I have tried so many if I’d been able to drink the tea I drank morning, noon and night?

Perhaps not – and so therefore that’s a good thing – but I have a slightly bitter, citrus flavoured tinge of regret that my first tea love remains out of reach.

5 thoughts on “Tea: Earl Grey

  1. I too love Earl Grey, and I have it every morning (sorry!) for breakfast.

    Haven’t heard of all the other variants, but I do like Lady Grey and the green Earl Grey (Sencha?).

    PS: Why do they always have those annoying little twigs in green tea? I make green tea the old way by pouring hot water over lose leaves at the bottom of the mug. Once the tea leaves has absorbed enough water they sink to the bottom, but those little twigs stay at the surface and get stuck in my teeth when drinking the tea! Argh!

  2. It’s a tea that seems to evolve. I like a good strong bergamot flavor, but the best Earl I ever had was an Earl Grey “creme”, the ubiquitous bergamot oil & cornflowers with some vanilla blended in. Loved it so much it’s the background of my Twitter page.

    There are so many different ways to subsitute-flavor things now, I wonder if there isn’t a variant of Bergamot out there that wouldn’t send someone into anaphalaxis and yet still be a pretty decent cup of tea?

  3. This was might touching, sir, and I empathize with your Earl-y plight. Unlike yours, my journey was reversed. I didn’t come to like Earl Grey until much later in my teasploration. When I finally had an Earl grown AND blended in the UK, I was forever a fan.

    Does your citrus allergy also include bergamot “natural flavors”? If not, you could use that as a substitute, even though it would be inferior.

  4. You forgot the Rose Grey blend from the shop. I still have fond memories of that one. I agree with lazyliteratus, I came to Earl Grey much later on mostly because of an intense dislike of ‘bergamot flavour’.

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