THE ORIGIN OF EARL GREY TEA
If you go looking on the Internet, you'll find a myriad of explanations for the origin of Earl Grey tea, some much more improbable than others.
Very simply, the tea was named after Charles Grey (1764-1845), the second Earl Grey who was the Prime Minister of England from 1830 to 1834. As gifts are customary in the realm of diplomats and world leaders, the most believable story is that the recipe was given to Grey's emissary who received the tea from a Chinese mandarin seeking to influence future trade relations or upon the conclusion of a successful diplomatic mission. It consisted of China black tea flavored with the pear-shaped sour orange of Canton, China.
The main detractors of this version say that the Chinese have never been drinkers of Earl Grey and point out that bergamot is grown in southern Italy, not China. However, the Chinese did flavor tea with orange. Bergamot, sometimes placed in the separate species Citrus bergamia, is actually a variety of Citrus aurantium which originated in China. From China, about 300 B.C., the written record has sour orange seeds in Rome at about 100 A.D. Although sour orange is not usually eaten raw in China or Japan, it is used to make marmalade, the essential oils are used in soaps and perfumes, and the flower buds are used for scenting tea.
Interestingly enough, until Twinings acquired Jacksons in 1990, Twinings and Jacksons used to argue about which first developed the Earl Grey tea. Logically, Twinings wouldn't have had to develop a recipe if they'd had the original Chinese recipe which Jacksons claims it held as sole proprietor ever since the Earl gave it to George Charlton, a partner of Robert Jackson & Co.
Checking the timeline, it wasn't until 1838 that the first shipment of non-Chinese tea arrived at London from India. The Twinings version of Earl Grey uses Ceylon tea which the Chinese never had a reason for using having recorded the earliest use of their own teas centuries before the Ceylon tea plantations were started in 1867, fully 33 years after the Earl's term of office.
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