Regency Man Monday – Earl Grey

Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey

Earl Grey is a title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. It was created in 1806 for General Charles Grey, 1st Baron Grey. A member of the prominent Grey family of Northumberland, he was the third son of Sir Henry Grey, 1st Baronet, of Howick.

To date there have been seven Earl Greys.  The current title holder is Phillip Kent Grey.

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. A member of the Whig Party, he backed significant reform of the British government and was among the primary architects of the Reform Act 1832. His government also saw the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. In addition to his political achievements, he has come to be associated with Earl Grey tea.

Earl Grey tea is flavoured with bergamot to imitate the more expensive types of Chinese tea. The tea has been known in England at least since the 1820s. In 1837 there is a record of court proceedings against Brocksop & Co. who were found to have supplied tea “artificially scented, and, drugged with bergamot in this country.” A ‘Grey’s Tea’ is known from the 1850s, but the first known published references to an ‘Earl Grey’ tea are advertisements by Charlton & Co. of Jermyn Street in London in the 1880s.

The Earl Grey blend, or “Earl Grey’s Mixture”, is assumed to be named after The 2nd Earl Grey, British Prime Minister in the 1830s and author of the Reform Bill of 1832. Lord Grey reputedly received a gift, probably a diplomatic perquisite, of tea flavoured with bergamot oil.

According to one legend, a grateful Chinese mandarin whose son was rescued from drowning by one of Lord Grey’s men first presented the blend to the Earl in 1803. The tale appears to be apocryphal, as Lord Grey never set foot in China and the use of bergamot oil to scent tea was then unknown in China. However, this tale is subsequently told (and slightly corrected) as on the Twinings website, as “having been presented by an envoy on his return from China”.

Jacksons of Piccadilly claim they originated Earl Grey’s Tea, Lord Grey having given the recipe to Robert Jackson & Co. partner George Charlton in 1830. According to Jacksons, the original recipe has been in constant production and has never left their hands. Theirs has been based on Chinese black tea since the beginning.

According to the Grey family, the tea was specially blended by a Chinese mandarin for Lord Grey, to suit the water at Howick Hall, the family seat in Northumberland, using bergamot in particular to offset the preponderance of lime in the local water. 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 as a brand.

Further Reading:
Wikipedia – Earl Grey
Wikipedia – Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey
Wikipedia – Earl Grey tea
Gov.UK – History of Charles Grey, 2nd Earl of Grey
Britannica – Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey

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