That Time Earl Came to Tea


May’s teatime has rolled around much quicker than anticipated, but in the light of recent events, I have fully grasped the importance of making sh*t happen and come prepared.

No other tea (apart from maybe English Breakfast) associates quite as strongly with Great Britain for me as Earl Grey. The legends surrounding how this particular blend came into being are quite a few. I won’t be reciting these tales here today, but if your interest’s been captured, there are numerous books on the history of tea available. The truth remains, Earl Grey originates from England.

As tradition would have it, Earl Grey is a black tea infused with bergamot oil and/or blended with the dried peel of this bitter fragrant fruit. Bergamot is a member of the citrus family and is far less common than your ordinary lemon, lime or orange. In fact, the countries where this smallish tree is found growing is limited to Italy and France only in Europe, as well as some areas of North Africa and South America. Some say the use of bergamot oil was means to make the lesser quality black teas more equal in flavour to those of high quality Chinese teas.

Times move fast, however, and nowadays there are ALL KINDS of Earl Greys out there. The more common varieties include Lady Grey (with cornflower petals), French Earl Grey (with rose petals) and Russian Earl Grey (with lemongrass and various citrus peels). I’ve gone all fancy this time round with my choice of tea and sourced a very special Earl Grey blend including cornflower, calendula, safflower, lemon peel, lemongrass and cactus flower. But an Earl Grey is an Earl Grey at the end of the day. Use 3 teaspoonfuls of tea leaves per 1 liter of water at 95ºC and brew for 1-5 minutes as per your taste preference. Drink with or without milk.

As for the teatime itself, it’s more down to earth this month. Less fine bone China, elegant tea cakes and crustless cucumber sandwiches, and more real flavours. One rainy afternoon last week, I put on my baking hat and went a little nuts producing a rather large batch of cornflower shortbread biscuits and savoury wild garlic scones (recipes for both to follow in the coming weeks). The scones were spread with creamy fresh goats’ cheese before gobbled down in less bites than one would be prepared to admit. Needless to say, the biscuits disappeared just as quickly.

However, if you are more of a high tea type of gal, by all means take out that beautifully decorated delicate tea set of yours and serve a more traditional spread of teatime snacks. Surely everyone has their own vision of the ideal afternoon gathering around a pot of tea, and I am merely here to share mine. Put that kettle on, lovely!

* Oh, and if you do throw that high tea, don’t forget the Kir Royale!

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