Friday, November 15, 2013

A variety of stories.... Which one is real?

In response to my post yesterday about the Newcastle church, and the association of Newcastle with Earl Grey, Jon wrote in:

Dan, Check this out for the real story on Earl Grey tea.

Pile o' Earl Grey.  From Wikimedia.
It's a fair point: There's at least another version of the Earl Grey tea creation story.  

My story was given without attribution.  To quote myself, 
Sometime during his diplomatic career he apparently received a gift of tea scented with oil from the bergamot orange, and the link was forged.  That kind of tea came to be "Earl Grey's tea."

To tell the truth, this was something I'd learned long ago.  And now, when I look at Wikipedia, I see that's more-or-less consistent with the story told there.  From the Wikipedia article on Earl Grey tea
"According to the Grey family, the tea was specially blended by a Chinese mandarin for Lord Grey, to suit the water at Howick Hall, the family seat in Northumberland, using bergamot in particular to offset the preponderance of lime in the local water. Lady Grey used it to entertain in London as a political hostess, and it proved so popular that she was asked if it could be sold to others, which is how Twinings came to market it as a brand."  
The Wikipedia article cites Howick Hall Gardens as the source.  (Link)

BUT.. the Wikipedia article does say that this is "assumed" and "according to legend.."  And the Howick Hall Gardens people (who I assume are lovely people) probably are not in the business of running down their stories carefully. 

So... how do we determine which is the real one?  The website has this creation myth, and another one saying that it comes from the Jacksons of Piccadilly.  "...Lord Grey apparently gave the recipe to the firm [ Jacksons ] in 1830 and they claim to be continuing to make the original blend today."  

How many other variations on the theme are there?  

The link that Jon gives tells a pretty convincing story.  

But I'm curious--are there any other origin stories for Earl Grey tea?  How will we tell them apart?  Which to believe?  

For the teachers out there... what advice do you give your students about discriminating the different stories? 

Searching on... for ways to find the gem in the pile.  


  1. How do you like your tea?
    I predict that you are going to see more and more uses of teas besides drinking it. I wouldn't be surprised if someone has opened a cafe/bakery/other use type shop for all the best teas. Cupcakes are out - baked tea is in. Just watch & it will show up soon.

  2. I should have mentioned I use teas already for stir fries, soups, sauces, marinating, for ice teas, & as a steam humidifier when congested.

  3. is this the "gem" or part of the steeping pile? (from my previous comment to the Newcastle answer)
    answer still fuzzy…
    foods of England
    Tea Trade
    The Statistical journal and record of useful knowledge
    in search of EG

  4. Hello Dr. Russell

    I think many of the famous food products create "magical" histories that helps people to relate and to create fame to the products. Many of them are real and others are not possible to verify.

    I searched [ Earl Grey origin] and found that a brand Earl Grey tea bags mentions that according to history Earl Grey asked them to do recreate the tea.

    Charles Grey 2nd Earl Grey mentions "One of his other legacies is the blend of tea known as Earl Grey. He reputedly received a gift, probably a diplomatic present, of tea that was flavoured with bergamot oil. It became so popular that he asked British tea merchants to recreate it."

    The best page so far is Early Grey: The results of the OED Appeal on Earl Grey tea "...and though a connection to Charles, 2nd Earl Grey now seems unlikely, it cannot be ruled out..." very interesting page and data.

  5. 1831 as far as marketing - the source recipe is another story… see the University of British Columbia page.

    "Twinings, which was founded by Thomas Twining after he opened a tea room on the Strand in London in 1706, is generally acknowledged to have been the first company to sell the first brand of Earl Grey tea.
    It launched the blend in 1831, naming it after the Prime Minister of the day, Charles Grey. The distinctive taste is created by infusing black tea with the oil of the bergamot orange from South-East Asia."

    UBC wiki

  6. World Tea News did a brief history on Earl Grey tea - - and it concludes:
    Researchers at the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) issued an appeal in 2012 to find the earliest evidence of Earl Grey referring to tea. The first reference to bergamot-flavoured tea was found in 1824. In contrast to later associations, it seems that at that time it was used unfavourably to enhance the taste of low-quality tea. This led the OED to conclude that it was “rather unlikely” that Charles Grey, the second Earl championed or recommended the tea.

    They provide further reading recommendations:
    Correspondence of Princess Lieven and Earl Grey, (1890), London: R. Bentley
    Early Grey: The results of the OED appeal on Earl Grey tea, (2012), Oxford English Dictionary [, accessed 26 Oct 2013]
    Grey, Charles, second Earl Grey (1764–1845), (2004) E. A. Smith, Oxford: Oxford University Press
    Lord Grey of the Reform Bill, being the life of Charles, second Earl Grey, (1920), G. M. Trevelyan, London: Longmans, Green