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Tea and Beer


Tea and Beer header

I’m a big fan of beer. In fact, I used to write a beer column for a local newspaper a few years back. I’ll often have a beer when I start dinner, and switch to tea at the end. I even took a seminar at World Tea Expo about pairing tea and beer, looking for common flavor characteristics in different styles of the two beverages. A conversation with fellow tea blogger Robert Godden (Lord Devotea’s Tea Spouts), however, got me thinking about the possibility of actually combining the two. You know, putting beer and tea in the same glass. Yeah, Robert’s a strange one.

But why not?

There are beer styles exemplified by certain flavors, which you might get from additives like fruit or other grains, or you might get from doing strange things to the barley, like smoking it. Why not get those flavors from tea? Especially that smoky one…

A buddy of mine, Doug “Beerbarian” Bailey, works at our local brewery, Red Lodge Ales. Doug is a sales guy, but he still understands beer pretty well. He and I both go for smoky flavors. We drink lapsang souchong and Russian caravan tea. We drink smoky rauschbier. We drink Islay Scotches like Laphroaig, which just ooze peat and smoke. We even enjoy the same pipe tobaccos.

So Doug and I had a long discussion about flavoring beer with tea — especially about making our own variety of rauschbier by adding smoked tea to a nice robust beer. It was a wonderful discussion, but we didn’t follow through on it. And then, months later, I get a private message from him on Facebook:

Beer Facebook chat

In case you can’t see the image, it says, “I need an experimental beer ASAP and I want to try something wacky. Brewing some really strong smoked tea and adding it directly to the already brewed beer in the keg.”

Initially, we’d been talking about actually adding the tea leaves to the kettle while brewing the beer, but Doug was in a hurry. He proposed adding the tea to beer that was already brewed and sitting in the keg. This brings up a few complications, like how to avoid watering down the beer and how to pour tea into a full keg of carbonated beer.

The solution to the first problem was simple: just make the tea really strong so we don’t have to use much of it. In fact, to avoid diluting the flavor of the beer, we went right past “really strong” to “stupid strong.” And as for the second problem, Doug came up with a set of fittings that allowed us to put the tea into an empty keg, pressurize it, and then add the contents of a full keg of beer to it.

The more we talked about the solutions to the problems, the more we realized making just one beer wasn’t going to cut it, so when experiment day arrived, Doug grabbed the kegs of beer and I brewed three stupid strong batches of tea from Red Lodge Books & Tea to match them.

We started by adding carefully measured amounts of the übertea to glasses of beer. Instead of wrecking our palates with the smoked tea, we started with a lighter one. The beer is Helio Hefeweizen, a light and citrusy unfiltered wheat beer. I paired that with a cinnamon orange spice rooibos tea. I had brewed the tea with 1 ounce of leaf to 8 ounces of boiling water and steeped it for six minutes. It didn’t take a whole lot of tea to give the beer a wondrous spicy flavor with an orangy nose. We settled on 940 ml of strong tea in the 5-gallon keg of beer. It was a rousing triumph. We made a bit extra so I could take a growler home with me.

Helio hefeweizen with orange spice tea.

Wait. Was I supposed to take a picture before we drank it? This is the wheat beer we spiced up.

Our second experiment was completely off the wall. Doug did say he wanted something “wacky,” so I paired their Beartooth Pale Ale with an infusion of one of my own special tea blends, which I call “Coyotes of the Purple Sage.” It’s an Earl Grey made with black tea, sage, and a hint of mint. I didn’t brew it quite as strong (same amount of leaf as the first one, but with a 5 minute infusion). Our first experiment was rather overwhelming, so we backed down the ratio, using 750 ml of tea in the 5-gallon keg.

I’m not going to call this one an overwhelming success. The sage and bergamot was just a little strange in the pale ale.

kegs

Here are the four finished kegs. The apparatus for transferring carbonated beer from one pressurized keg to another is in the sanitizer bucket in the lower left of the picture.

The final beer was the one that started all this. We used a Russian Caravan tea, 1 ounce of leaf per 8 ounces of water, brewed for 4 minutes. The base beer is Jack’s Scottish Ale. We played around with the proportions for a bit, and ended up using 900 ml of tea per five gallon keg. We made two kegs: one for Doug’s special event, and one to put on tap in the tasting room that night. Doug named it “Smokin’ Jack.” It was exactly what we were trying to accomplish!

This will not be the last time I bring together my loves of beer and tea. Maybe it’s getting to be time to dust off all of my old homebrewing equipment and get to work.

Tea. Earl Grey. Hot: Stop 2 on the World Tea Tasting Tour


Jean-Luc Picard: Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.

I’ve seen this picture all over the Web, but I nobody lists credits. If anyone knows where it came from, please let me know.

Update: The story of the origin of Earl Grey tea is one of the chapters in my book, Myths & Legends of Tea. Check it out!

England may not grow many tea plants, but the United Kingdom has had a massive impact on the development and popularization of tea since the 1660s. Our second stop on the Red Lodge Books & Tea World Tea Tasting Tour explored the world of Earl Grey tea, from the Right Honourable Charles Grey (for whom Earl Grey tea is named) to Star Trek TNG’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Earl Grey isn’t a single tea, but a broad range of styles. We carry nine different Earl Greys, of which over half are our own house blends, made right here in Red Lodge. The teas we tasted were:

  • Organic Ancient Tree Earl Grey
  • Lady Greystoke
  • Jasmine Earl Green
  • Coyotes of the Purple Sage
  • Fifty Shades of Earl Grey
  • Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey

We started out with a discussion of the history of Earl Grey tea. The common myth is that the tea blend was presented to Charles, the 2nd Earl Grey by a Chinese mandarin after Charles (or one of his men) saved the life of the mandarin’s son on a trip to China. In reality, Charles never set foot in China, and the history has a more mundane beginning. The Earl lived at Howick Hall, which had a high lime (calcium) content in its water. This gave his tea an off-flavor and he (or possibly Lady Grey, depending on who’s telling the story) consulted a tea expert for advice. This tea expert — possibly a Chinese mandarin, we don’t know — came up with the idea of adding the oil of the bergamot orange (Citrus bergamia) to the tea. This is what was served in Howick Hall, and the formula was eventually presented to Twinings by the Earl and it became one of their regular offerings. Twinings changed the formula a couple of years ago, but that’s another story. Earl Grey-Slide07 Before we leave the subject of bergamot, by the way, the word is Italian, not French, so the “T” at the end is pronounced. I have heard a lot of tea people talk about “bergamoh,” but it is actually pronounced just the way it is spelled. Tea purists who scoff at Earl Grey often use the word “perfumey” to describe it. There’s a reason for that. By some estimates, as much as half of women’s perfumes contain bergamot oil, and about a third of men’s fragrances. The first Earl Grey that we tasted is Ancient Tree Earl Grey from Rishi — a wonderful blend that does quite well in our tea bar. This amazing tea  won “Best Earl Grey Tea” at the 2008 World Tea Championship. Earl Grey-Slide10 Next, we moved on to a house blend called Lady Greystoke. This is my take on lavender/vanilla Earl Grey, a blend which many tea shops would call Lady Grey, despite the trademark violation. Lady Grey tea is named for Mary Elizabeth Grey, the wife of Lord Charles, 2nd Earl Grey. Our Lady Greystoke is named for Jane Porter, who married Tarzan to become Lady Jane Greystoke (the full story is in an earlier blog post). Earl Grey-Slide14 For people that enjoy the bergamot, but want a milder tea, many shops offer an Earl Green or Earl White, and perhaps a caffeine-free Earl Red made from rooibos (yes, we have all three of those). For a different twist, we offered up a Jasmine Earl Green. Lightly perfumed with both with jasmine blossom and bergamot oil, it’s the most delicate of the teas we tasted. Earl Grey-Slide15 Next, we come to a popular blend of ours that really captures the character of the American West: a sage-based Earl Grey we call Coyotes of the Purple Sage. I know, it sounds rather strange, but the flavor mix really works. The literary allusion in this one comes from Zane Grey’s book, Riders of the Purple Sage. Yes, it’s a Zane Grey Earl Grey! For the story of the logo and blend, see my earlier blog post about it. Earl Grey-Slide16 The next tea also has a book theme — you can tell we have a combination tea bar and bookstore — but I’m not going to call this one a “literary” allusion, as nobody would refer to the Fifty Shades of Grey books as “literature.” I came up with the blend just for fun, with lots of punny references to the book, ranging from tea’s color (black and blue) to the rich flavor and overpowering bergamot. It actually ended up being quite tasty, and we’ve been selling quite a bit of it. Earl Grey-Slide17 We wrapped up with a signature house blend that’s completely different — a lapsang souchong-based Earl Grey that we call Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey. The full story of that tea has already been told here, so I won’t repeat it. Earl Grey-Slide18 If you live in the area and were unable to attend this session, I sure hope to see you at one of our future stops on our World Tea Tasting Tour. Follow the link for the full schedule, and follow us on Facebook or Twitter for regular updates (the event invitations on Facebook have the most information). Let us close with a short video explaining the proper way to order a cup of Earl Grey tea:

Another new tea logo: Fifty Shades of Earl Grey


After a variety of local artists have had the fun of producing logos for my tea bar’s house blends, I thought it was about time to do another one myself. Since drawing isn’t my strong suit, I decided to pick a blend where I could work from a stock photo to start, and that would be Fifty Shades of Earl Grey.

50 Shades of Earl Grey logo

I developed the Fifty Shades blend a few months ago at the height of popularity of the Fifty Shades of Grey books, which we still sell plenty of in our bookstore. It was a funny little thing to start, and I didn’t think it would earn a permanent spot on our tea menu, but this odd blend started picking up popularity.

DISCLAIMER: There is no connection whatsoever between this tea and the Fifty Shades of Grey books. This is not a licensed product, and it has not been endorsed or authorized. It is strictly a parody.

The tea is based on a Kenyan black tea with a bit of Ceylon and Royal Purple mixed in. Then, of course, it gets the bergamot oil that characterizes an Earl Grey – a lot of bergamot. On top of that is a melange of cinnamon, orange, lemongrass, cornflower petals, and other goodies. Some of the ingredients were added for flavor, and some for looks. I wanted a black & blue tea, and I wanted something with a dominating flavor. What can I say? I just couldn’t resist the wordplay.

Coincidentally, it’s certainly one of the prettiest teas we have.

For the background picture, I wanted to capture the feel of the book cover artwork without using any of their imagery. I found a stock photo I liked, clipped out a portion of the pot with the steam, extended the dark background, and then adjusted the tone to get that bluish-grey color we ended up with. For the text, I chose a typeface with the look & feel of an old typewriter font, but proportionately spaced, and then I kerned it to suit.

The tagline at the bottom? Well, once again, I just couldn’t resist.

Zane Grey Earl Grey: Coyotes of the Purple Sage


Coyotes of the Purple Sage LogoWith new tea blends, sometimes we come up with the tea first and struggle to think of the perfect name. Sometimes we come up with a cool tea name and then spend weeks tweaking the formula until we find just the right taste. And then the logo works its way into the equation.

Sometimes, however, everything comes together in a flash, and that’s what happened with this tea.

We were looking for ideas for a fundraiser, using a tea that had a real American West flavor to it. Being a tea bar/bookstore combo, a literary allusion makes things even better. As we were throwing out ideas, someone said “Zane Grey.” The next obvious leap was “a Zane Grey Earl Grey.” The next obvious leap was to Zane Grey’s best-known book, Riders of the Purple Sage.

The fundraiser is for the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary here in Red Lodge, and two of the well-known noisy critters right by the entrance are a pair of coyotes named Bonnie and Clyde. We wrapped everything up by tying in the Wildlife Sanctuary and naming the tea Coyotes of the Purple Sage.

The ingredients for the tea came together pretty quickly as well. Black tea and bergamot oil are the base for most Earl Greys. Sage was pretty much a mandatory ingredient. A bit of lemon verbena and and lemon thyme added more citrus notes and the thyme goes well with the sage (I will resist breaking into song here), and a subtle touch of peppermint finished off the blend.

My logo is an homage to the cover of the first copy of Riders of the Purple Sage that I read:

Riders of the Purple Sage Cover

Lady Grey


Trademark SymbolToday was tea blending day at the tea bar, as I mixed up new batches of our house blends. As I was working on our Lady Grey, I got to thinking about how incredibly different Lady Grey teas are from one company to the next, and decided to do a bit of reading on the subject.

It didn’t take long to find a comment that “Lady Grey” is a registered trademark of R. Twining and Company in the U.S. and U.K. (here’s a link to the trademark search on Trademarkia that shows it renewed in March of 2006). This hasn’t stopped quite a few companies from producing their own variations, like Jasmine Pearl (theirs has orange zest and lemon myrtle, but no bergamot!), SereneTeaz (an Earl Grey with lavender),  American Tea Room (they don’t have a full ingredient list, but it includes cornflower petals), and Tea Embassy (another Earl Grey with lavender).

Should I follow their lead and continue calling my blend Lady Grey? Nah. I have better things to do with my time and money than fight legal battles. I’ll do the right thing and follow the example of Marks & Spencer (they call theirs Empress Grey) and Trader Joe’s (Duchess Grey).

Duchess Grey Tea Empress Grey Tea

Twinings originally named their Lady Grey tea for Mary Elizabeth Grey. Their Earl Grey tea (which they changed last year) was named for her husband, Charles, who was the second Earl Grey. Twinings uses less bergamot in their Lady Grey than they do in Earl Grey, but they add other citrus and some cornflower.

I’ve never understood the rationale of “clone blends.” My “Lady Grey” isn’t the same as anyone else’s. If it was, I’d just buy theirs. I want something different. Mine is an organic blend, using Chinese black tea, oil of bergamot, wild Tibetan lavender, a little bit of vanilla, and a touch of rooibos.

What to call it? The one consistent thing about all of our other Earl Grey teas is the word “Earl.” Earl Green (green tea + bergamot), Earl Red (rooibos + bergamot), and all of the blends that use the full “Earl Grey” moniker, like Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey and Cream Earl Grey. The name “Lady Grey” keeps the “Grey” instead of the “Earl,” but is still connected.

So I have done what I often do in such situations: turn the question over to my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. I’ve asked Facebook and the Twitterverse for suggestions, and I’m starting a thread on my favorite message board (the Straight Dope). When we decide on a new name, you’ll read about it here first!

Twinings changes their Earl Grey. Stop the presses. Or don’t.


Twinings Earl GreyThe tea world is all a-twitter because British tea giant Twinings has changed the formulation of their Earl Grey tea after over a century and a half. This is being likened to the “New Coke” fiasco. It’s difficult to address a subject like this without puns, so let me get this out of the way and call it a tempest in a teapot.

When it comes to Earl Grey tea, we are swimming in a sea of alternatives. Every tea company has their own twist on the blend, and the only things they have in common are black tea and bergamot. In fact, even the black tea part is optional these days. You can get Earl Grey made from Chinese tea, Indian tea, Ceylon tea, or Kenya tea. You can even get white Earl Grey, green Earl Grey, red Earl Grey (which is made with rooibos rather than tea), or Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey. The amount of bergamot can vary from just a hint to enough to knock your socks off. You can get your Earl Grey with lavender or dozens of other additives.

I am most amused by the Earl Grey variants that they call “citrus” Earl Grey. Hey, guys, all Earl Grey is citrus. That’s what bergamot is. It’s a variety of orange.

The bergamot orange.

We’ve done some experimentation in our tea bar. Since Earl Grey tea is hugely popular — one of my personal favorites, in fact — we started out with four Earl Greys: an Ancient Tree Earl Grey, Empire’s Earl Grey Supreme, a rooibos Earl Grey for the caffeine-free crowd, and our own lavender Earl Grey blend we call The Countess (here’s why we don’t call it Lady Grey). Yes, we know that’s not what’s in Twinings’ Lady Grey. We don’t care.

We knew those last two were going to be specialty drinks. The purists wouldn’t be interested in either one. The first two would be a horse race for popularity.

Rishi’s offering is my personal favorite. It’s a very straightforward Earl Grey made from organic fair-trade Yunnan Dian Hong. The Earl Grey Supreme from Empire Tea includes quite a bit more bergamot and some other citrus as well. The horse race became a runaway. Rishi’s Ancient Tree Earl Grey is the most popular tea at the tea bar (judging by ounces sold), outselling the high-bergamot Supreme by a four-to-one margin. If I were the type to draw conclusions based on a single data point, I’d say that adding more bergamot to Earl Grey isn’t a good thing.

That, however, is exactly what Twinings just did (and a touch of lemon, too).

This isn’t really going to affect me. They may have been first out of the gate with Earl Grey, but theirs has never been my favorite formulation. I think it will be a good thing for the tea business, though, as it will drive the old-line Twinings Earl Grey purists to get out and experiment a bit. We’ll see where it goes.


Update: 7 September 2011

That didn’t take long. Andrew Brown at the Telegraph blogged (actually before my post came out, so I suppose my research was inadequate) that Twinings has released “Earl Grey: The Classic Edition” to satisfy discontented fans. It’s an interesting post. The thing I find most interesting is the biography line at the top, which says, “Andrew M Brown is a writer with an interest in mental health and the influence of addiction on culture.” Good qualifications for someone writing about tea, eh?

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