Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Greys of pomp and hogwash

Hello everyone, I have a special treat for this blog post. I have found someone who says he know the truth about the mysterious origins of the world’s arguably first flavored tea: Earl Grey.
Mr. Chinwester has been privileged to written records that have been passed down through generations by notable and wealthy ancestors. He won’t lend them to me, of course, said I would get the pages dirty. Wouldn’t even let me –see- the books, said I’d still get them dirty. Indeed. But if he has at long last the truth about the origins, then we shall all have to suffer for information I suppose.

Now, before I get to him, let me tell you that Earl Grey tea was probably created around the early 1800’s, but no one knows for sure. How it came about, and who created it has long been debated by old tea manufacturing companies. The tea itself hasn’t suffered from the mystery; it is one of the most popular tea blends of the world.
It is the tea that I drink every morning when I wake up, without any pomp or ceremony. No teapot, just a mug with two lumps of sugar popped in, and a teabag of Twinings'. Even Captain Jean–Luc Picard favoured this tea most of all. As long as it was hot, of course. And now, to tell us fully about the tea, and at long last the true history, is uh, the enthusiastic (and pompous) Mr. Chinwester:

Ah why hello little commoners! Allow me to introduce myself; my name is Fitzwilliam Ronald Chinwester the first. I was asked by the owner of this blog to give my knowledge on something I know very many things about. I assure you that this is not a rare occurrence and my mind over flows with thoughts of many, many important things. Indeed, they very often have to be very shallow to be able to all fit in my head, I have so many.

Right right, onto the important subject (only slightly more important than of myself) of my disclosure: Earl Grey Tea. Why yes! The glorious tea of a ladies’ luncheon! Of the afternoon sort where crumpets and scones are eaten with decided vigor! The tea I daintily drink from rare and expensive porcelain while I wait on the moors –with rifle in hand of course- for a hind to cross my path! Ah, don’t be off put by my wealth my good reader. Not all of us can have our tea served to us in items made in far off exotic lands. Mine, I must boast, were made in the wondrous land of china!
Earl Grey is only Earl Grey when a black tea base is made with a squishy little citrus fruit called the Bergamot. The bergamot fruit isn't exactly edible, but the skin, or rather, the rind is the prize. It has long been used as an additive for tea and perfume. In fact, if you lean in and take a whiff, why yes, don’t I smell lovely?

Earl Grey tea was named after an actual person, you know, Charles Grey. My wealthy ancestor actually chatted to him about the weather once. It’s true! Now the Earl wasn’t the original Earl Grey at all, but rather the second. Now I can tell you personally that being a first, like myself, is much more prestigious than anything a second has to offer. And when I have a lady to finally wed me, and produce a Fitzwilliam Ronald Chinwester the second, I shall make a point to remind him about it daily.
Ah herm hm. Right, the tea. The Earl Grey was a good chap, was even the prime minister of the United Kingdom at some point in his life. I am sure he did many fine things, like abolish slavery and such. But what he did most spectacularly was the single handed rescue a poor drowning Mandarin man from a river while he was in China. Oh yes, a fine swimmer he was, swam the River Thames every chance he could. He would swim right under the ice in the winter, and hold him breath during the summer when the heat made the sewage smell uncomfortable strong. The Chinese fellow was so thankful, rightfully so, that he presented the Earl with the recipe that has now become known as Earl Grey Tea! Oh, just a moment.

I have just been told by the mistress of this blog that I have said a fallacy. Apparently, Lord Grey has never stepped foot in China. Well, a man -was- rescued, and if not by him then one of them men in his employment.
What, apparently, black tea in China wasn’t as popular as it became in jolly old England, and therefore wouldn’t have made a suitable gift?
And the Chinese didn’t use the Bergamot fruit for flavourings?
Really now, you are just picking apart my story for sport.
Harumph. My story is perfectly possible. I’m the one with the passed down records that most assuredly indeed exist. You don’t have any such privilege to prove otherwise.

Well, perhaps Howick hall, the resident of our brave Earl, had terrible tasting water due the high amounts of lime. Back then nothing could be done, and a Chinese man - I bet you it was the same drowning man!- was brought in to see if he could make a tea that wasn’t ruined by the water. He picked a black tea base, and blended it with the citrus fruit rind. It proved to be spectacular, and the Lady Grey began serving it in London. It was a political family mind you, and therefore all the people who mattered started drinking this new tea. They enjoyed it so much (and I would think lime-less water would have improved it ten fold) they requested it be sold. Twinings' got it -oh how I do love Twinings'!- and the rest is history. It is, after all, all noted down my records.

Lady Mary Elizabeth Grey has her own tea but I dare think it wasn’t -her- who came up with it. Women aren’t capable to do such things as thinking...
Madam! Did you just assult me? I dare say I didn’t just deserve to be. Imagine, attacking a guest! Harumph! Now if you don't mind, I still have some concrete history to tell.
It was probably the company Twinings' -oh I do love Twinings'!- who came up with that brilliant ‘Lady Grey’ marketing idea. It is a lovely tea made with another bitter fruit, lemon seville orange.

I dare say Lady Grey wasn’t as lovely as her tea, or the Earl wouldn’t have been so randy for the Duchess of Devonshire. Still, there isn’t a tea called the Duchess of Devonshire, now is there. Then there is the Earl’s ‘questionable’ brother who was found with a duke, and thus became the inspiration of Earl Grey Cream. Just a little vanilla is added in this blend to make it smooth and creamy. Scrumptious!

What are you implying? I did not just make that last part up, Earl Grey Cream absolutely has vanilla flavourings. I also take high offense at you trying to negatively portray my character. Me a liar? How dare you. I do believe I am done here, for I no longer will subject to your lies and indiscretions!

Good day!


Well, sorry about that everyone. That’s what I get for trying to invite an ‘expert’ to talk. Obviously the mystery of origins is still there, and might never be solved. Still, no matter what your preference, there is a Earl Grey to suit your tastes. You can have more black tea and a little bergamot for a slight citrus flavour, or a lot of bergamot mixed into the tea for a stronger citrus flavour. Stash’s Earl Grey is very strong for the bergamot flavouring, while Twinings' in more mild in that sense. You can have actual rind in your tea in a high quality tea, or just artificial flavourings in a inexpensive tea. I will have the Earl Grey Cream from the Metropolitan Tea company for a treat, for there are few rivals for a tea as smooth as that one is. I am partial to the Metropolitan tea company's Earl Grey Cream, as I found other companies put too much bergamot and that clashes dreadfully with the vanilla. Lady Grey, I sometimes swap for my normal Earl Grey. It is fruitier and lighter, and seems to suit a cheery, sunny morning beautifully.

I do have one ominous “Beware” though. If you drink more than four liters of Earl Grey in one day, and do this daily, some negative symptoms can occur. The bergamot can, in high doses, cause muscle cramps. It can also have the same effect as grapefruits, slowing the absorption of estrogen and decreasing the effectiveness of birth control pills. But you have to be drinking a very large amount of Earl Grey daily for this to happen.
Earl grey is found in many pantries, and will always be my number one must have tea.
Twinings' can be found in nearly all grocery stores, and the Metropolitan Tea company is only in select tea supplier stores.

Friday, March 18, 2011

'Empressing' the locals

One summer morning in 2004, my mother woke me up and told me we were going to go to the Victoria area on Vancouver Island for an overnight stay.
It was a glorious trip, and we spent time in all the must see places: Buchardt Gardens, the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, the Provincial Parliament building, the now gone Royal London Wax Museum, and the Royal B.C. Museum. That was actually the whole reason we were going – to see the Eternal Egypt exhibit. But most spectacular was the icon of Victoria. As the Big Ben is London, the Eiffel tower is Paris, the statue of liberty is New York, the Empress hotel is most definitely Victoria. And what else is the Empress hotel known for other than their overnight accommodations? Well, their high tea of course!

My mother and I diligently went and had tea every Monday at a local tea house. Since we were in Victoria on a Monday, we decided that high tea – even at $50 a person- was a must do. The décor was beautiful, and even though I was wearing a Harley Davidson shirt (what was I thinking?) we were treated very well. The high tea, on the other hand, was lacking. A very pricy bill got you soggy pastries, tasteless sandwiches, and very simple fair. As my mother liked to say afterwards, we weren’t “Empressed.”

What was delicious, however, was the tea. Simply called "Empress Tea," it was signature blend unique to the hotel -- of course we bought a tin of it to take home. It didn’t have any added flavours or ingredients outside of regular tea. What was special was that they blended different tea together from different regions, and even different countries. It was complex, subtle, and smooth. It is more than a little amazing that the exact same plant could taste so differently from one spot to the next. It is -the- quintessentially perfect afternoon tea.
After we got home, we savored our little tin of tea, and were sorely sad to see it finally empty. It wasn’t as if we would be going over the water anytime soon to replenish our Empress Tea stock.

But then, a few years later, I stumbled upon a delightful store called Murchie’s (the same store that I later found the lovely Lavender tea). To my surprise, and of course delight, I found that Murchie's sold the official Empress Tea blend. It turns out that the Empress (a historical hotel built in 1908) used Murchie’s (a local company established in 1894) as its tea supplier and tea blender. I promptly bought a box, and rejoiced that the Empress tea was only a wee bit of a drive away. I drank it all, bought some more, drank it all, and bought some more again. And then something odd happened. I went to buy another box of Empress Tea, but there was no such sign of the tea in the entire store of Murchie’s. I looked, became concerned, and finally flagged down a staff member to inquire about the tea. The Empress tea was no longer called the Empress tea. It is now known as Murchie’s Afternoon Blend. I grabbed the newly named tea and bought it. So relieved I was, that it didn’t occur to me to ask why – at least not until I was enjoying a cup of the brew at home. Still, no matter what the name was, I thought it the same great tea I had come to know and love.

Time passed, and my mother traveled back to Victoria and bought a package of the official tea the Empress sold (they packaged it in a box rather than a tin) for souvenir's sake. Curious,I did a taste comparison and both tea tasted the same. On examination, however, the tea leaves were a little larger than my Murchie’s blend. It was visually different, but still the exact same blend of tea. Eventually we had once again run out of our dear tea, and once again the tiny pilgrimage was made to pick up Murchie’s afternoon blend. This time however, I was determined to ask some questions. To appreciate the answers, however, it's best to know a little bit about the Empress hotel:

It was built a bloomin’ long time ago, and through most of its existence was owned by CPR. Canadian Pacific Railway was doing well, and building hotels for the guests that used its rail. Yes, the railroad didn’t extend to Victoria, but they also had nice ships (not unlike ferries, but also not unlike little floating hotels either) that would transport people to Seattle, Alaska, ect. Business boomed, then wilted (WW1) and then boomed, and then wilted (WW2) and then only slowly came back around, with many ups and downs in between. The Empress was actually considered for demolition in the mid 60’s, but outcries and the pointing out (rightfully) that it was an iconic landmark caused it to get a cosmetic refurbishment (called operation Tea Cup) instead. Thankfully in 1989 they smartened up and did a true refurbishment that renewed its original grandeur and glory. A year before that, however, the hotel division of CPR was beginning to change. It bought out a large competitor, and began buying small hotels, and luxury hotels in international locations. They became Canadian Pacific Hotels and Resorts. The year 1999 had them buying the San Francisco Company called Fairmont hotel, and they decided in 2001 that they should call all their large luxury hotels the Fairmont hotel. So technically, the Empress hotel I knew was always the Fairmont Empress hotel. Okay, in 2006, Fairmont jumped into bed with a large LA hotel company called Colony Capital, and remains that way today. But what does that mean for the tea?

Well. The Empress hotel is no longer just a Canadian hotel; it is a half American one. I would suppose that after the merger, the American side wondered why the Empress should spend money with Murchies’s when they could get their tea blended elsewhere for much cheaper. All that truly mattered was that the blend was the same, the guests would know no different. Pfft, way to support your local community. Murchie’s really got the short stick of this agreement. Not only was the Empress no longer their client, but they were no longer even allowed to use the name for the signature blend. Such a treatment despite having who knows how long of a working relationship with each other, though I would assume it would be right at the Hotel’s beginning -- nearly a hundred years ago. From what I heard, they did try to fight back legally. But after spending quite a bit of money, and the cases going nowhere, Murchie’s dropped the suit and limped back home defeated. Which is why you now have Murchie’s Afternoon Blend, which in my humble opinion, tastes significantly better than the Empress blend of tea.

Here is a quote taken directly from the Empress Tea Box.
This blend of seasonal quality was specially created for afternoon tea at the Empress. The Assam component (2nd flush June production) gives a thick malty and full bodied character; the Kenya component (Kiambu region, January productions) gives floral-like flavour and golden coppery infusions; the South Indian Component (Nilgiri mountains, January production) gives superb fruity and sprightly flavour with a lovely finish; the Ceylon (Dimbula Region, January production) gives an airy almost piquant flavour that opens the blend; and the China (Anhui province, April production) gives a burgundy depth with light oaky notes. Truly one of the world's great teas!

You can purchase the Empress tea at the Empress Hotel, or email them at
You can purchase Murchie's Afternoon blend in any Murchie's locations, or online.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Tea enthusiast at Disney

What does a tea lover do at a Disney Resort? Well, that depends on what side of the country you’re on. One side has a great selection of tea to drink, and one, frankly, does not.

Now I am not talking about the horrid drink they call iced tea. I can’t drink that stuff (I need cream and sugar, remember?) I am talking about the “wake up in the morning and drinking a hot tea with milk and sugar” tea. Granted, it is often so blasted hot in either park that you don’t typically -want- to drink a hot beverage. But tea is perfect in the morning, and afternoon tea is fine in an air conditioned building.

Let’s start off with Disneyland in beautiful Anaheim, California. There are about three places to have tea in the park in the morning. One is Riverbelle Terrace, where the dinning is over the counter. You can have tea, but it’s Tetley.
Now I am no fan of Tetley, mostly because of the physical tea. Look at it, it’s all powdery. One might as well drink instant tea. The brew is also nothing to rave about.
Fine, how about the gorgeous Carnation Café? They are a sit down restaurant, and I absolutely love going there. The food, service, and atmosphere are great. The coffee, from what I’ve heard, is also delicious. The tea? It’s Tetley. It is actually a little amusing, because when you request hot tea, they bring out the works. Milk and a slice of lemon, and honey are brought out just in case. So why does Disney serve the cheapest tea they can purchase?
The last place you can go is to the Blue Ribbon bakery on Mainstreet, where all sorts of specialty coffees are available. But tea? Well you can have hot tea, for about three bucks. And it’s also Tetley. And that is really it for breakfast in Disneyland’s Magic Kingdom. Lesson to be learned? Bring your own tea to Disneyland.
I am starting to think Mickey mouse must not be a big tea drinker.

Now Disneyworld? Oh ho ho ho! That’s a different story. Despite being so bloody hot and muggy in Florida, their tea selection is so much better. First, if you are in the Animal Kingdom, you can head down to the Royal Anandapur Tea Company.

You can have hot tea – but it's usually blistering hot in Animal Kingdom. So while you have a great selection of hot, you can have the cold too. I once had an Iced Masala Chai there, and I have never again had its equal. Highly recommended. How about a high tea? Well, at the Grand Floridian, at the Garden View Lounge, they pull out all the stops for their high tea. I haven’t been yet, but it is a must do for my next trip down.

As for buying tea, well you have a few options. In Disneyworld, specifically, you can head over to England in Epcot and buy some Twinning’s tea (yum) in all sorts of British staple flavours. You could also head over to Downtown Disney where the Spice & Tea Exchange just opened last November. Located in Mickey’s Pantry, it looks like you can blend your own teas! *squee* Oh hum, pardon me. Though, you might not have to since they have over 40 blends available. Still, who knows how many of those are black tea.

Now, in both Disneyworld and Disneyland, there are teas available to buy in most large or culinary specific shops. There are some assorted teas, but my favourite is Disney Wonderland Tea, The Mad Tea Party Blend. Every time I’ve been to a resort, I have always made sure to stock up in case I was low. I don’t think I ever want to be without this tea on hand. You would rightly assume this is a tasty tea, eh?

It contains Indian Black Teas, Safflowers, Calendula Petals, Ginger Bits, Apricot Bits, Peach and Apricot Flavors. The main star I would have to say would be the Apricot/Peach. Unlike the weird peach tea I wrote about earlier, the safflowers and calendula balance the citrus. It means this drink is complex and smooth enough that it ends up working beautifully. The tin is also fun and in character of the Alice in Wonderland characters. Here is the Mad Hatter's guide to make Tea:

How to make Hot Tea
(a.k.a Uncold Tea)
by the Mad Hatter

Start at the beginning (and when you come to the end...stop). Use 1 teaspoon per 8oz of water and steep for 3 to 4 minutes (we recommend your clock be two days slow). Move down the table and get a clean cup.

This is a great summer drink, and I can’t figure out why Disneyland doesn’t serve this tea instead of the icky Tetley tea.

Disney used to sell this tea online, but it looks absent for the moment. Surely they will sell it once again! If you don't mind getting a whole bunch of teas that include the Mad Tea Party Blend, you can get the Alice in Wonderland Tea 6 pk.
Meanwhile, if you go to a Disney resort, you can pick one up in store!