Tea Writings

A blog about tea from the desk of Cecilia Tan

Today’s tea: Something English!

May 12, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Reviews

Maybe it was STAR TREK that started the Earl Grey craze? Or maybe it was always so popular and I just never noticed it until Captain Jean-Luc Picard started requesting it from the ship’s replicators all the time.

But as I have learned, like with most teas, not all Earl Grey’s are created equal. If you’re in the mood for it, you can nearly always get it in the tea bag selection at restaurants and from hotel room service, so it is reliable in that way. And it is a good one for covering up the lingering taste of coffee if your only source of hot water is a coffee maker. But what a fine light flavor it can have when only lightly steeped (two minutes) and served without milk! That is, if it is a good Earl Grey.

The Republic of Tea Earl Greyer is only so-so in my book. It makes a nice strong cup that tastes great with a dash of milk or cream, and the decaf version they make is good. But when steeped by itself and no milk…? It’s not that yummy. The tea flavor is lost under the heavy bergamot, which can be bitter in such quantities.

Today, though I am using the very last of the Taylor’s of Harrogate Earl Grey that a friend brought for me from a trip of hers to the UK. (If I remember rightly, she even bought the tin at Harrod’s.)

I’ve been rationing this one, the way one makes a bottle of really fine scotch last as long as possible. This is silly, I know, since I am never more than a few clicks away from being able to order more. But still.

“Family Tea Merchants, Taylors of Harrogate, Est. 1886” reads the lid of the adorable little eight-sided can. “Tradition has it that the secret recipe for this tea was given to one of Earl Grey’s diplomats in the 1830’s by a Chinese Mandarin as a reward for saving his life.”

This little story seems likely to be a happy fiction, and practically says it is with “tradition has it.” Not to mention, are there other kinds of Mandarins than Chinese? And what’s up with the stray apostrophe in 1830s? Surfing the net one finds other versions of the tale: it was Earl Grey himself (except he never set foot in China), it was the man’s son who was saved from drowning, etc. Since there’s likely little truth to the story, it doesn’t much matter, since it really only depends on what makes the better story, and “better” is probably determined partly by who one’s listeners are.

As perhaps the best blend of tea is different for different audiences. I am one quarter-Welsh and one-quarter Irish and grew up drinking Lipton if any tea at all. I do not claim to know anything about what English tea is supposed to be like, or how it is best appreciated. However, it seems to me that most of the instructions for brewing I’ve seen on UK web sites want one to steep the tea until it’s like black coffee, and then make it drinkable again with sugar and milk.

I’d rather taste the TEA.

This Taylor’s of Harrogate Earl Grey really lets me taste the tea. A two-minute steep yields something not much darker in color or flavor (or should that be colour or flavour?) than a dark-oxidized oolong or light keemun, and the citrus oil is nice and light. Any heavier and it would be like drinking laundry detergent.

I wonder how it will hold up to multiple steepings? Stay tuned, I’ll let you know.

0 Comments to “Today’s tea: Something English!”

  1. yarakot says:

    I remember reading a business article at the time of Star Trek:TNG that said that sales of Earl Grey tea increased by some significant amount when Picard began drinking it on Trek. So I don’t think it simply escaped your notice.

  2. I’ve seen some mentions of the sales jump on other blogs at the very least, too. Plus the Picard action figure came with accessories including a phaser, ressikan flute, and Earl Grey tea, apparently! 🙂


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