Who was Earl Grey?

February 4, 2011

Most of the planet is familiar with Earl Grey’s eponymous tea, yet few know who he was or why he has a tea named after him.  You’ve probably even consumed Earl Grey tea.  If not, I’m sure you have at least seen it at the grocery or heard the name before.

(Note:  If your knowledge of tea leads you to believe that tea comes pre-mixed with lemon flavor and corn syrup in a can,  should always be cloyingly sweet and served over ice, or you just have no idea what I’m talking about, stop reading and go HERE to learn about tea.  If you think tea is “gay” or only for old British people and Asians, you should probably just move on to another site that caters to ignorance.  Try Fox News.)

The first thing you need to know about Earl Grey is that his name was not Earl;  It was Charles.  Charles Grey was Prime Minister of England from 22 November 1830 to 16 July 1834.  Not only was he Prime Minister, he was an Earl.  The 2nd Earl Grey, to be specific.

The first Earl Grey, also named Charles Grey, was a British Major General who fought during the American war of independence, and is most famous for the Paoli Massacre in Pennsylvania and the Baylor Massacre in New Jersey.  He also led the British in the Battle of Germantown and burned New Bedford and Martha’s Vineyard before heading back home to England to be knighted and promoted to Lieutenant General.  He was raised Baron Grey of Howick.  In 1806, he was created Earl Grey and Viscount Howick and has absolutely nothing to do with Earl Grey tea.  The tea is named after his son.

Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, KG, PC (13 March 1764 – 17 July 1845), known as Viscount Howick between 1806 and 1807, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 22 November 1830 to 16 July 1834.  He was a prominent whig, and after becoming Prime Minister, he brought about several governmental reforms and was among the primary architects of the Reform Act 1832 which abolished slavery in the British Empire.  In 1834 he retired from his political career and spent his last years with his family at Howick, content with his books and dogs until his death in 1845.

According to the  Howick Hall website, “The tea was specially blended by a Chinese mandarin for Charles, 2nd Earl Grey, to suit the water at Howick, using bergamot in particular to offset the taste of the lime in it. Lady Grey used it to entertain in London as a political hostess, and it proved so popular that she was asked if it could be sold to others, which is how Twinings came to market it. It is now sold worldwide and the Greys were sufficiently unbusinesslike not to register the trade mark; as a result, they have never received a penny!”

Earl Grey tea is traditionally a black tea with the addition of oil from the rind of the bergamot orange.  Other varieties add lavender, jasmine, and differing citrus peels to the mix.  To make the perfect cup of Earl Grey, follow my instructions for preparing loose leaf black tea.

You’ll need a teapot (ceramic is best because it won’t react with the tea like metal pots) and something to boil water in.

  1. Add 1 teaspoon of loose tea per person and 1 teaspoon for the pot.
  2. Bring your water to a boil and remove from heat.
  3. Add the hot water to the teapot and leave it alone. Black teas like Earl Grey are best steeped at 206 degrees F for 3 to 4 minutes. (any longer and the tannins in the leaves are released making it taste bitter.)
  4. Pour into your favorite cup and enjoy!

Drink your Earl Grey tea straight up or add cream and sugar to taste.

If making Earl Grey from a tea bag, follow the steeping direction listed above.

Plain Earl Grey (and black tea in general) without sweeteners or additives contains negligible quantities of calories, protein, sodium, and fat.  All teas from the camellia sinensis tea-plant are rich in polyphenols, which are a type of antioxidant.  In 2001,  a Boston University study concluded that short and long-term black tea consumption (without cream) reverses endothelial vasomotor dysfunction in patients with coronary artery disease.  This finding may partly explain the association between tea intake and decreased cardiovascular disease events.  In addition, some studies indicate that regular tea consumption may have a beneficial effect on atherosclerosis, LDL cholesterol, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, liver disease, HIV, stroke, depression, weight loss, neurodegenerative diseases, and even halitosis.  That beats carbonated beverages and plain old water by a mile!

Earl Grey can also be used as an ingredient in baking.  Here’s a cool recipe that I stole from Faith over at The Kitchn.  Go there to see the pics and more detailed information about these great cookies.

Earl Grey Tea Cookies
makes 2 dozen

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon Earl Grey tea leaves*
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon water
1/2 cup unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 375°F. Pulse together all the dry ingredients in a food processor until the tea leaves are pulverized.

Add vanilla, water, and butter. Pulse together until a dough is formed. Form the dough into a log onto a piece of wax or parchment paper. Wrap the paper around and roll the log smooth. Freeze now, or chill for at least 30 minutes.

When chilled, slice the log into 1/3 inch thick pieces. Place on baking sheets and bake until the edges are just brown, about 12 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks.

Here’s another great recipe using Earl Grey as an ingredient.  I got this one from Maki over at Just Bento.  Be sure to check them out to see pics and to view the notes for this recipe.
Earl Grey Tea Muffins

The dry ingredients:
2 cups minus 3 Tbsp (230g) all-purpose or cake flour (with cake flour they will be lighter, but AP flour works too)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
4 Tbs. Sucanat (see notes) or light brown sugar or raw cane sugar or regular sugar
Pinch of salt

The wet ingredients:
2 large eggs
3 Tbsp canola oil or light olive oil (or other flavorless vegetable oil)
1 1/3 cups buttermilk (or 1 1/3 regular low-fat milk + 1 Tbsp. vinegar)

1 tsp. or 1 teabag fine Earl Grey tea leaves. If your tea leaves are on the coarse side, grind them up a bit in a mortar and pestle, or just crumble them up by rubbing the leaves between your fingers.

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 360°F. Grease or spray non-stick spray onto your muffin tins if needed.
Mix or sift together the dry ingredients.
Beat together the wet ingredients until blended.
Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, using a spatula. Don’t over-mix. Add the tea leaves.
Spoon the batter into the muffin tins evenly. Bake for about 20 minutes for mini-muffins, 25-30 for regular size muffins, until the tops are browned and a skewer stuck through a middle muffin comes out clean. Note: these muffins will puff up quite a bit.

Take out of the muffin tins and cool on a rack – that is, if you can resist eating them hot, since these smell so good!

If freezing, put them in the freezer well wrapped as soon as they are at room temperature.

If anyone else has any cool recipes they want to share, please leave them in the comments below, or post a link.


3 Responses to “Who was Earl Grey?”

  1. Donna in Montana Says:

    I really enjoyed reading your page. I’m not a tea drinker but this makes me want to try it again.. I like coffee and tea just tastes like a very watery drink. The recipes sound tasty and I think I’m going to have to give them a try! Thanks for the interesting site.. (I had Googled “Earl Gray” and came across this page) Very interesting info!!!

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Twining s earl grey tea in not to the original recipe,that belongs to Jackson’s.Interesting article but shame about the commercial angle ang the promotion of Teinings earl grey wich is dreadful and not original.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    there are Gray’s that ned to be treated like mousolini after the fall of hitler, respectfully

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