I was perusing a post from a fellow tea blogger about World Tea Expo 2013 … well, perhaps I shouldn’t call it a “post.” It’s more of an essay. Or perhaps a minor tome. If you bound it in creepy leather and added a few paragraphs about demons, you could even call it a small grimoire. But I digress…
Ahem. Anyway. Geoffrey F. Norman (a.k.a. “the Lazy Literatus“) wrote about his experiences at the expo and featured a little snippet about me in which he mentioned one of my blends: Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey tea. I mention this for four reasons:
1) He posted this picture of us with the caption, “Tall Montanan is Tall.”
2) It’s a good blog post. If you’re interested in tea and/or World Tea Expo, I recommend giving it a look.
3) It reminded me that I promised to send him a sample of Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey and forgot in all the hubbub. Sorry, Geoffrey. I’ll get that on its way ASAP.
4) And, last but not least, he’s a perfect example of not blogging on a schedule!
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:
Such a delay! It was about eight months ago that I came up with the Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey Tea blend (see my blog post about it here), and we finally have a logo for it! This one was drawn by my son’s friend from college, Brandon Pope.
I’ve found that logo art comes out better if I don’t tell the artist what I want, so I gave Brandon little more information than the name of the tea and what it is (an Earl Grey lapsang souchong). If I could draw, I probably would have done something with a dude sitting in the middle of a burned-out town, his shotgun at his side, drinking a cup of tea as the zombies eye him from a distance. In other words, something way to complex to use as a logo.
Brandon came up with the skull and gas mask, with one of the air filters replaced by a teacup. Very simple, yet immediately recognizable. His original was a hand-lettered pencil sketch (see below), which I needed to colorize. Brandon’s shading was great, especially where the texture of the paper showed, so I just added solid blocks of color behind the skull, mask, and teacup.
I really, really wanted to put this one on a black background, and I just couldn’t seem to make that work using his text. I re-did the text using a fun font called “Disgusting Behavior,” stretched vertically to achieve the look and aspect ratio that I was after. A blood-red color for the text with a subtle glow and an emboss effect finished it off perfectly.
For comparison, here is Brandon’s original pencil sketch (below) and the final logo (above). You can click on the final logo for a larger image.
This whole program of guest artists for tea logos (kicked off by Al Jones and his Hammer & Cremesickle logo) has been a blast. Thank you very much to Brandon for the artwork, and watch this space for guest logos by husband and wife team Doug and Suzanna Bailey, coming up soon.
After my blog post a couple of weeks ago about Twinings changing their Earl Grey formulation, I went to my favorite online forum (the Straight Dope Message Boards) and started a poll to see what people thought about it. I never thought at the time that it would lead to a whole new spin on Earl Grey tea.
During the discussion, a fellow who uses the online moniker “Mr. Excellent” commented that:
“But yah, Twinings is acceptable, but I prefer to get my tea from a local tea shop. And lapsang souchong is more my thing, anyway. (Though adding bergamot could be neat …) “
The idea of a smoky lapsang souchong with bergamot just seemed wonderful to me, and I commented that I was going to give a shot at creating one. Mr. Excellent responded with:
“I’m looking forward to hearing how the Post-Apocalyptic Earl Gray works out! (Named thus because, with the smokiness of the lapsang, it should be like Earl Gray that survived some firey holocaust and came out awesome.) “
Over the course of the day, I played with recipes, and drank a lot of tea. By mid-afternoon, I was getting fairly close to what I wanted, and described it thus:
“The various strong flavors in this tea hit you at different times. As you bring the cup up to your mouth, the bergamot is the first thing to hit the nose, cutting through the smokiness of the lapsang souchong. When you take the first sip, the bergamot all but disappears, leaving the pine smoke flavor, which fades into the base tea (an organic black Yunnan) as it swirls through your mouth. After you swallow, the bergamot returns, blending with the smoke to create a lingering aftertaste.”
My goal was to create a blend that would make you feel like you were sitting among the smoldering remains of civilization, enjoying a nice cup of tea before hefting your shotgun and going back to fighting off the zombies. After another week or so of experimentation, I think I hit it. “Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey” has officially gone on the menu at our tea bar, and as soon as I have the new tea website finished you will be able to buy it online.
Thank you, Mr. Excellent, for the idea and the name. I hope you enjoy the tea!
[UPDATE May 2012: Our new tea bar website is up and running, and Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey is available for purchase now. It’s also now our second most popular Earl Grey out of the eight that are currently on our menu. I’ve updated links in this blog post accordingly.]
[UPDATE May 2015: My book, “Myths & Legends of Tea, volume 1” is out, and there’s a chapter devoted to the (fictional) backstory of Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey. It’s set in Australia, 20 years from now…