When enjoying a delicious cup of steaming Earl Grey, does one ever wonder how such a delightful beverage got its distinct name? Most teas are named after their color, content, or place of origin, yet Earl Grey stands alone, for its name does not describe color, content, or place of origin. What’s more, Earl Grey denotes British roots, yet tea itself is a product of such exotic locales as India, Sri Lanka, and China. So what is the story?
It turns out that Earl Grey tea is named after the second Earl Grey, Charles Grey, who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1830 to 1834. But how did a Prime Minister of England become associated with the exotic product that is tea? Yes, tea is a staple of English life, yet everyone knows that tea is a Far-East affair. Did he perhaps consume so much of it that it was only natural to name it after him? Such as what happened with the Earl of Sandwich? We all know how that turned out. According to legend that was not the case at all, but in fact, something even more dramatic…but questionable.The story goes that this particular tea blend containing the oils from the rind of a bergamot orange was a gift to the Prime Minister, after one of his men saved the son of a Chinese mandarin from drowning. Although this sounds well and good, the fact of the matter is that this story is shot with holes. First off, at the time China was a country of green tea. Even though Earl Grey can be made from a white, green, or oolong tea, history shows that black tea, was not as popular, and therefore probably would not have been even offered as a gift for visitors. Another discrepancy is the mere fact that Earl Grey never was in China at any point of his life. Some attribute the voyage from afar as the etrog’s ceremonial presence at the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot around the world. Despite these legends, more research suggests that the Jacksons of Piccadilly received the recipe from Lord Grey, and that it was derived from China tea from its introduction.
I’ll give it to the Jacksons, their story seems more plausible, but it’s fun to think that my little cup of Earl Grey was the result of a heroic event. What’s exciting about a recipe being passed down? I think that a tea as exalted as Earl Grey should have a just as revered legacy, even if it is bogus.