Every tea drinker knows Earl Grey tea, the world’s favorite flavored tea. But few people know that the tea is named after Charles, the 2nd Earl Grey and British Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834.
The original recipe for this beloved blend simply calls for black tea with the addition of oil of bergamot, squeezed from tiny lemons grown in the Mediterranean region.
The stories about the origin of the blend are many and varied. Some say the recipe was given in thanks to a British diplomat when he saved the life of mandarin – or perhaps the mandarin’s son – while in China on a mission for the Prime Minister. Some say it was Earl Grey himself who was traveling in China and saved the mandarin. Neither story has ever been substantiated.
Also difficult to explain is the use of bergamot. Bergamot is not a native Chinese fruit, and it has been suggested that bergamot was chosen when the blend was mixed in Britain to replicate the citrus character of some other Chinese plant such as neroli (bitter orange) or citrus Sinensis (orange blossom). Earl Grey’s family say that bergamot was used in order to offset the high level of limescale in the local water of Northumberland, where Earl Grey lived; Stephen Twining says that his family originally blended the tea at the Greys’ request to make it palatable when brewed in London water when the Earl was at Westminster – London water also contains high levels of limescale.