Our guest blogger this week is Margaret Prouse. Margaret is a home economist and freelance food writer. We are so pleased that she is sharing her love of tea and food with us.
by Margaret Prouse
My roommate, Vicki, introduced me to Earl Grey tea while we were at university. I’d been drinking tea with milk (or as my uncle liked to tease– milk with a little tea) since I was a little girl, but this was not in the same league as my everyday tea! Earl Grey tea was sublime.
Sipping it transported me from our modest student hovel to some imaginary flower garden. My concerns about passing midterms, completing term papers on time, and paying rent fell away as I inhaled the delicious aroma of bergamot. I had never dreamed that drinking tea could be a sensuous experience.
My student days are long gone, and in the intervening years, I’ve treated myself to Earl Grey tea from time to time. Even now, a cup of Earl Grey makes a day feel like a special occasion.
Before COVID-19 put an end to house visits, our host at the meetings of my writing group almost always served Earl Grey, just one of the ways she had of making guests feel special.
Strange as it seems, I have only recently wondered who Earl Grey was, and how the blend of tea bearing his name came to be. The sources I’ve looked at are unanimous about who he is, but stories of how the blend came into being are inconsistent.
Earl Charles Grey (in his case, Earl is a title and not a name) was Prime Minister of England under William IV during the early part of the 19th century. One of his accomplishments was to help end slavery throughout the British Empire.
How did the Earl Grey tea blend originate? One story is that the earl received the recipe for the blend in the 1830s as a gift from a Chinese government official whose life had been saved by a British diplomat; another simply says that the recipe came from a Chinese official with whom the earl was friendly. However, I have read that Earl Grey was never in China, and furthermore, bergamot wasn’t used to scent tea in China in the 1800s.
Ultimately, it’s not important to know how the Earl Grey blend came about. What does matter is that this mixture of black tea, flavoured with oil of bergamot, has endured since the early part of the 1800s, and remains a favourite.
Bergamot is another name for the popular garden flower called bee balm, whose leaves have been used to make tea. To my surprise, the bergamot in Earl Grey has nothing to do with bee balm. It is an essential oil from the peel of the bergamot orange, which grows in Italy, that flavours the tea.
I was introduced to Cream Earl Grey tea when a package of it appeared in a gift box from Lady Baker’s Tea. The hint of vanilla in this blend is a perfect complement to standard Earl Grey tea. I am hooked.
Just for fun, I followed a recipe that was enclosed in the gift box, to make Cream Earl Grey and Lavender cupcakes. If you wonder, as I used to, how one bakes with tea, here’s the deal: you brew a rather strong infusion of tea using boiling water, or in this case hot milk, strain it, and use that liquid in the recipe.
The cupcakes are delicious, so much so that I had to freeze some of them so that the two of us wouldn’t consume the whole batch in a few days.
My latest discovery is iced tea made with Cream Earl Grey. Next to water, this is the easiest summer beverage! Just steep a pot of strong tea, chill and drink. Simple as that.
Since my first exposure to iced tea was the powdered mix that tastes predominantly of sugar and lemon, I often look for those flavours in an iced tea made with “regular” black tea. Not so with Iced Cream Earl Grey. The flavours carry it, no sweetener needed. I am sure there are numerous ways to embellish it with additions and garnishes, and I will try some over the course of the summer, but for now, I am happy to sip chilled Cream Earl Grey on ice with no fancying up.
The Earl Grey flavour still carries me away, just as it did when Vicki first poured it into my cup in our student apartment. I didn’t dream then that a blend called Cream Earl Grey would be even better.