7 types of Earl Grey

Earl Grey is a black tea that is flavoured with oil from the rind of bergamot orange, a fruit grown in Italy, France and South East Asia. Variations on the traditional blend include Lady Grey (a blend of earl grey with blue cornflower blossoms), Russian Earl Grey (Earl Grey with pieces of citrus peel and lemongrass) and Red Earl Grey (rooibos and bergamot).

Charles Grey - 2nd Earl Grey

Charles Grey – 2nd Earl Grey (Source)

Responsible for the name of the tea is Charles Grey. Charles was an English aristocrat who was educated in Eton and Cambridge and elected to Parliament at the age of 22. He married Mary Elizabeth Ponsonby (daughter of Baron Ponsonby of Imokilly, Co. Cork) and had six daughter and ten sons. Before he was married he had an illegitimate daughter with the Duchess of Devonshire, which is the subject of the movie “The Duchess”. He was prime minister of England from November 1830 to July 1834 and inherited the title of Earl from his father. Charles Grey was noted for advocating Parliamentary reform and Catholic Emancipation. Two of his most notable reforms were the Reform Act of 1832 and the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 but interestingly the monopoly of the East India Company in Britain’s trade with China ended while he was prime minister.

 

1928 Advertisement for Earl Grey

1928 Advertisement for Earl Grey (Source)

How he became associated with the tea is unclear. There are stories of good deeds in China that resulted in the recipe for the tea coming to his ownership. Another version tells how the blend was created by accident when a gift of tea and bergamot oranges were shipped together from diplomats in China and the fruit flavour was absorbed by the tea during shipping. Yet another version of the story involves a Chinese mandarin friend of the Earl blending this tea to offset the taste of limescale in the water at his home (at Howick Hall). In reality, it is not absolutely clear why the tea was named after Charles. However, the tea was served by the Greys when they hosted gatherings and Jackson’s of Piccadilly say that they introduced the blend in 1836 to “meet the wishes of a former Earl Grey”.

As a person who claims to not like flavoured tea, I currently have seven different varieties of Earl Grey on my shelf. Last Saturday I brewed all seven to compare and contrast. Among them were four loose leaf teas, one whole-leaf tea bag and two CTC tea bags. Historically, Earl Grey has a reputation for involving low quality teas that are masked by the bergamot  but each of these was absolutely drinkable and most of them were very pleasant. Going through the distinctions of each would get tedious so I’ve shortlisted the best of the crop.

3 of the 7 earl greys

The nicest tea was a blend of Chinese black tea from Tea Palace. It was a beautiful earthy tea that was balanced with a gentle bergamot flavour. Second place went to a blend from Damman Frères. The presence of blue cornflower blossoms and sunflower petals means that technically this is a Lady Grey but it was sold as Earl Grey so we included it. The Chinese black tea in this blend stood up well with the bright citrus flavour and again gave a harmonious flavour. Of the two CTC teabags, the Marks and Spencer brand was the more interesting of the two. It used a Sri Lankan black tea that gave their blend a rich, powerful base.

The most interesting conclusion from tasting all these teas is that aroma of the loose leaf gives very little indication of the taste. The strong perfume smell of the Dammann Frères was off-putting but that overpowering fragrance did not translate to the taste. Similarly, one of the teas was an earl grey lavender and the aroma was distinctly soap-like. But again, that soapiness did not translate to taste.

Some notes on preparing earl grey tea: Freshly boiled water should be used. A steep time of 1.5 minutes is good for the loose leaf teas (3g tea and 150 ml water). The CTC tea bags steep in 40 – 45 seconds (200 ml water). All the teas were drank black.

Tea Brack

I didn’t drink tea when I was young but my first dabbling with the beverage was at the age of twelve and involved soaking sultanas in cold black tea for several hours to make a tea brack. I was a bit of a one-trick pony when it came to baking: every Saturday for several years I made this brack. It never occurred to me to make something different. Why would I? Everyone loved it, it was easy to make and several hundred bracks later, I had fine-tuned that recipe to perfection. I can’t find the worn out sheet of paper that has that magic formula but the recipe below works well and makes a moist, fruity loaf that suits the windy autumn days we’ve been having.

 

Tea Brack Recipe (loosely adapted from Odlums recipe for tea brack)

teapot and brackIngredients:

250ml strong black tea (cold)

10ml Irish whiskey (optional)

400g sultanas

150g light brown castor sugar

30g butter (melted)

1 egg (lightly beaten)

275g self-raising flour

 

 

The tea should be a solid black tea like an Assam or a Kenyan (none of those delicate Darjeelings) and needs to be strong, strong, strong. As a one-time exemption, ignore everything I’ve ever said about not over-steeping tea ;-).

Place sultanas in bowl and cover with the cold black tea (and whiskey, if using). Leave for at least four hours and preferably overnight.

After soaking, preheat the oven to 175°C/347°F/Gas 5.

Add the sugar and egg and melted butter.

Sieve the flour into fruit mixture and combine.

Grease a loaf tin with butter and place the raw cake batter in the tin. Flatten the top with the back of spoon and bake in the pre-heated oven for 75 minutes or until cooked through (when knife or skewer is inserted into the centre of the cake and comes out clean).

 

Brack SlicesMy teenage self would probably call this a very rough attempt at a tea brack but it’s not bad at all. I’ll re-post in a couple of years when I’m finished fine-tuning!!

 

Blog shortlisted

This weekend I’ve been popping open the Darjeeling  (the “champagne of tea”) because this blog has been shortlisted for the Blog Awards Ireland!

It was shortlisted under three categories including

Best Food/Drink Blog
Glenisk
Best Mobile Compatible Blog
GSM solutions

Looking at the quality of the other blogs that were nominated in these categories makes me realise what a compliment it is to be shortlisted.

 

Too much tea

Tea is a natural source of fluoride and at moderate levels is regarded as good for teeth. This article from the New England Journal of Medicine describes a 47-year-old woman who used 100 to 150 tea bags every day for over 17 years. The woman was ingesting ~20mg of fluoride every day which resulted in complete tooth loss and bones that were seven times denser than normal. Aside from tooth-loss, the fluorosis led to severe brittle bones and pain.

Everything in moderation….

Downton Abbey – Spoof

I saw an advertisement last night for Season 4 of Downton Abbey. It reminded me of these spoofs that BBC did for comic relief a few years ago. Part two of the spoof (second video below) is based around tea but it makes more sense if you see part one first. Both of them definitely make more sense if you’ve seen Downton Abbey. Enjoy!