Lowveld flavour – have a cuppa!
I cannot help but think there are two reasons for that appeal. One most obviously lies in the delicate, deliciously flavoured hint of citrus which this tea is famous for, and the other is the reason why Earl Grey came about in the first place.
England in the 1920s was a hotbed of exotic imports, and among them was the expensive teas which hailed from China and which, for the average English resident, were not affordable, but certainly desirable. After all, who doesn’t feel just a little like royalty when imbibing in unusual tipples? Hence the addition of the oil of bergamot, a type of orange which is native to Calabria, in Italy, which makes the tea mimic the flavour of the more expensive oriental varieties. It is believed to be a hybrid of sweet lime and bitter orange.
Known as the Earl Grey Mixture, the blend is apparently named after Charles Grey, the second Earl Grey, who was prime minister of the UK in the 1830s. He was presented with a diplomatic bonus in the form of tea which had been flavoured with bergamot oil, and the rest is history. The exact reasons for this generosity are unclear, but there are numerous tales and legends regarding the where and why, but none have been verified.
Traditionally, Earl Grey is made using black tea, but in later times other varieties started making an appearance, such as oolong, green tea (known as Earl Green), and our very own South African favourite, rooibos. Certain Earl Greys are made with the addition of herbs or flowers, for example, jasmine and lavender, and a Russian variety uses lemongrass as well as the traditional bergamot rind. There is also a well-known beverage known as London Fog, which comprises Earl Grey, steamed milk and vanilla syrup.
Earl Grey is the perfect accompaniment when it comes to baking and confectionary, chocolate and even savoury sauces and gravies, where a teabag is added to stock, which is then boiled. Loose tea is more commonly used when it comes to sweet recipes, and is often strained out of the final product.
An interesting snippet of history with regard to Earl Grey is that it was once a favoured mixer for gin. During the 19th century cheap, minimum-proof alcohol was the norm, and as you can imagine, tasted rather foul. Being that gin and Earl Grey were of a similar nature, herbal, they were paired together and an affordable, infinitely more pleasant flavour came about. In addition to this, the requisite boiling during preparation meant that many of the water-borne diseases, which were rife at the time, were neutralised. This improved herbal tincture became associated with middle-class alcoholism during the interwar years of the 20th century and was euphemistically referred to as a Moseley Tea Service.
Something else that goes well with Earl Grey is cookies or biscuits, or both, and by the same token, shortbread. The kiss of Earl Grey combined with the sublime yumminess of buttery shortbread is almost irresistible, so whip up a batch and indulge – they really are easy to make.
Earl Grey Shortbread
• 2 cups flour
• 2 tbs loose Earl Grey tea leaves
• ½ tsp salt
• ¾ cup castor snow
• 1 tsp vanilla
• 1 cup butter
• A smattering of icing sugar.
Whisk the flour, tea and salt together.
Add the sugar, vanilla and butter.
Either pulse in a food processor or knead by hand until a dough is formed.
Place dough on a sheet and roll into a 5cm-wide log shape.
Tightly twist each end of the plastic and leave to chill in the fridge for
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Slice into wheels of around a centimetre thick and place onto baking sheets lined with baking paper.
Bake for 10 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.
Leave to cool for 5 minutes then remove from the sheets and transfer
to wire racks.
Dust with a light flurry of icing sugar and enjoy.