Most of the flavors of tea that we know and love are named either after the region that it was made in or the ingredients that make up the flavor itself, but there is one name that stands out, and that is Earl Grey. So how did this hugely popular black tea get it’s distinctive moniker?
Earl Grey tea as we know it now is a black tea blend which is flavored with the oil of Bergamot fruits. In some blends parts of the Bergamot fruit are dried and added to the blend to infuse the citrus flavor during the brewing process. As there rests no official trademark on the name “Earl Grey” numerous interpretations and variations of the tea are produced. For instance, there is Russian Earl Grey, which includes citrus peels and lemon grass in its blend. Teas made with Bergamot oil and green tea or white tea are known in the market as Earl Green and Earl White respectively, and Lady Grey (which IS trademarked) is an invention of the Twinings company in the early 90s, that in addition of Bergamot also included lemon and orange peel.
So where does the name of a former British politician come in? Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, was a member of the Whig Party who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1830 to 1831. His most notable acts as a statesman was the spearheading the Reform Act in 1832 which implemented significant changes to the English and Welsh electoral system, and the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1833. Although the precise facts remain unclear, it is argued that Earl Grey most likely had a tea named after him as a gift from China after breaking up the monopoly that the East India Company held on trade between Britain and China.
However, there are other theories: One is that Bergamot oranges were shipped to Britain on the same ship as the tea leaves, during which the flavors were accidentally infused to make this new blend. Another is that a Chinese man created the recipe for the earl after being rescued from drowning by Grey’s men. This story has been heavily disputed since Ear Grey never visited China during his lifetime. London tea house Jacksons of Piccadilly have laid claim to the name arguing that they created the recipe in 1930, and according to the Grey Estate itself the Bergamot blend was made for Charles Grey specifically to offset the lime-infused water that was local to Howick Hall, where the family resided.