Black Tea Blend - Earl Grey Extra Fancy OP
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Black Tea Blend - Earl Grey Extra Fancy OP

Bagging the Origin of a Fabled Blend

Earl Grey may not have been named after Charles, the 2nd Earl Grey, or another of the Earls of that family name, as you will find if you follow the links below. In any event, the title “Earl” has been concomitant with the tea at least since the late 1880's, and  Richard, the sixth Earl Grey is associated with the Earl Grey effort of Twinings.  

According to the Foods of England Project, bergamot oil (from the bergamot orange) was unknown in China at the time that bergamot flavored tea was being introduced into Britain. There were, however, natural Chinese origin teas, of high value, with a citrus-like quality in their aroma and taste, and, it appears that by 1824, certain English tea dealers took to adding bergamot oil to lesser grades of tea to diguise them as the better grades.

Just when adding bergamot oil moved from being an indignity, to being a worthy addition to tea is unknown. We do know that by the Victorian era Earl Grey tea had become accepted by the highest society as the 1901, Life and Reign of Queen Victoria..., references the royal family's fondness for Earl Grey's Mixture for the previous five reigns. 

There are few tea drinkers who don't enjoy a cup of Earl Grey, and that is not limited just to real folks. The Foods of England Project also notes, that along with royalty, and common folk, "Earl Grey seems to be a favourite drink of fictional heroes, including Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek, Batman, Artemis Fowl, Piglet, Sir Leigh Teabing from the Da Vinci Code and Ducky Mallard of NCIS."

There are different grades of bergamot oil, and different ways to apply it to the tea. There are also different teas used as the blend base which accounts for the widely varied qualities, and tastes among Earl Grey products offered for sale. Gillies' Earl Grey blend is made with an Extra Fancy Orange Pekoe Assam India grade.

 

For further reading:

http://www.foodsofengland.co.uk/earlgreytea.htm .

http://public.oed.com/appeals/earl-grey/

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