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. 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. 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). 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. 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. 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. 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. 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:
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.
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.