A Royal Tea: Victorian Earl Grey

Having identified suitably royal teapots and teacups, it’s time to pick a tea to enjoy during this weekend’s royal wedding—because I imagine that you, like me, are viewing this wedding from your couch!

Earl Grey, of course, is one of the most “English” of blends, although its namesake and history are a bit murky (see my earlier posts: the origin of the tea’s name and  all about bergamot oil).

all 3 dry_low res
clockwise from top left: Earl Grey Imperior, Earl Grey No. 69, Royal Grey

Still, let’s go with an Earl Grey—but I’m looking at Victorian Earl Grey, because the Victorian period is, of course, the era of an earlier monarch, Queen Victoria.

queen-victoria-webVictoria ruled from 1837 to 1901, the years during which England worked to break China’s monopoly on tea by developing the tea industry in Assam, India. Early harvests were met with enthusiasm, probably due more to political causes than to tea quality.

Nevertheless, in 1838 the queen

prophesied that ‘this Experiment’ would ‘exercise an important influence over the prosperity of the British Empire in the East’ (Rappaport 2017)

Yes indeed.

Fifty years later, the success of Assam had sparked the development of tea gardens in other areas of India, Ceylon, even the United States. In India alone, tea exports grew from around 183 tons in 1853 to well over 35,000 tons by 1885 (IBEF)!

A bit of this success stemmed from new concern about food safety and consumer protection. Tea leaves were sometimes colored during production in China. Robert Fortune (1853) noted that this made the leaves “uniform and pretty,” commanding more money, but he calculated that “in every hundred pounds of coloured green tea consumed in England or America, the consumer actually drinks more than half a pound of Prussian blue and gypsum!” And even after tea reached England, additives (such as other plant material) might make their way into tea, and sometimes already-used tea leaves were dried and sold as new.

Victorian Earl Grey, by TeaHaus

However, slick advertising coupled with imperialism made a robust case for English-controlled Indian tea, and by the time Edward VII inherited the throne, Indian tea predominated in England’s teacups.

Today, both monarchy and black tea remain woven into English identity. So, in celebration of the coming wedding, I’m brewing Victorian Earl Grey.

This TeaHaus Blend sprinkles rosemary and rose blossoms into the traditional black tea and bergamot oil Earl Grey base.

The pretty petals add a floral note to the heavy bergamot aroma of the tea leaves. I found the brewed tea to have a light citrus aroma, and a liquor that leads with bergamot and then lingers with a slight floral note.

Best served in your most English of teacups!


Victorian Earl Grey is available at TeaHaus.com.

–Fortune, R. Tea Countries of China and the British Tea Plantations in the Himalaya, John Murray, London, 1853.
–India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), “Origin of tea,” https://www.teacoffeespiceofindia.com/tea/tea-origin.
–Rappaport, E., A Thirst for Empire, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2017.

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