The Real Story of Earl Grey Tea

The Real Story of Earl Grey Tea

Jun 08 , 2022

It’s a common myth that it was Charles Grey (1764-1845), the 2nd Earl Grey and Prime Minister of Great Britain from November 1830 to July 1834, that discovered the tea that became known as Earl Grey. It is a fine heritage for a fine tea, but the facts do not support the story.

It was however highly likely that Earl Grey popularised it, but the original recipe was created by Sir Joseph Banks, an eminent botanist at Kew Gardens and advisor to The East India Company and George Staunton, another botanist, who in 1793 was a member of an East India Company-funded mission to China, intended to unlock trade between Britain and China.

At this time, Banks became interested in the possibility of growing tea in India and so he requested Staunton to observe Chinese methods of tea cultivation and flavouring, requesting detailed drawings, providing as an example of what was required, a botanical drawing of a Bergamot plant.

The archives of the original East India Company document Staunton’s findings. He noted tea bushes and bitter orange bushes growing together and observed the Chinese scenting the tea with the orange flowers. Staunton made his recommendations to Banks in his report, and Banks duly experimented in his own little teahouse in London. We believe he used Bergamot oil [which was grown only in Europe] to scent the tea simply because it was the closest substitute for the unavailable Chinese Neroli oil obtained from the Bitter Orange plant.

Earl Grey tea - Chinese black tea with Bergamot oil - was born.

Product development is but one aspect. Marketing is another. Banks was a friend of Earl Grey, who loved the tea and in recognition of his social influence of the day, the tea was named after him.

We celebrate this achievement in a number of ways that makes our Earl Grey unique. Firstly, we use a combination of neroli and bergamot oils in our blend. In addition, we use a Sri Lankan black tea rather than the usual Chinese Keemun tea, because we feel is gives better body. And finally, we have proudly named our blend, The Staunton Earl Grey.