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May 19, 2013

The Secret of Earl Grey

Filed under: Black Tea,Tea Culture — Kwingert @ 11:19 am

Earl GreyWhat sounds like the title of a suspense novel, is the story about the beginnings of a tea which can be considered one of the most popular among traditional black teas.

While there are numerous opinions about when and how this tea blend was created, they all center on a political figure of the 18th century – Earl Grey.  Earl Grey, the person, was born Charles Grey II in England in 1764. He spent most of his life in politics and in 1830, became Prime Minister of Britain.

One of the versions of how Earl Grey tea got its name tells that during his political career, the Earl was very taken with a diplomatic gift he received – a chest of flavored black tea. He liked the tea so much that he asked British tea merchant Richard Twining to match the flavor of this mysterious tea. Twining created a blend of Indian and Ceylon black tea and added a bit of smoky Chinese Lapsang Souchong. He also used a special and rare ingredient which lent this tea its unique citrus fragrance and flavor. Since Twining blended the tea especially for the Earl, iEArl Grey Jean Luc Picardt was only fitting to name it after him – Earl Grey!

More recently, Earl Grey tea has made a number of appearances in movies: It is the favorite tea of Captain Picard of Star Trek, The Next Generation. If you are familiar with Dan Brown’s book “The Davinci Code”, you know that one of his characters, Sir Leigh Teabing, also liked his cup of Earl Grey!

The secret of Earl Grey – the tea that is, – lies in this special ingredient, the oil of bergamot fruit (Citrus bergamia risso). As secret as the ingredient, as secret is the place where we find bergamot. It is in San Gregorio, a tiny village in the province of Reggio Calabria, the southernmost part of the Italian boot where bergamot grows in luscious orchards that supply 95% of the world’s bergamot – this inedible fruit that gives Earl Grey its unique character and citrus flavor.

While it is unclear how the fruit ended up in Italy, San Gregorio is the only place where bergamot is successfully grown on a larger scale.Bergamot

The fruit weighs about 3.5 ounces and is harvested in early spring.  In the early days, the essence was extracted by squeezing the rind manually and collecting the liquid onto natural sea sponges that were wrung into bottles. This slow and messy work was later replaced by the macchina Calabrese, a wooden grinding wheel with a box to collect the essence. It takes 100 pounds of fruit to make one pound of essence, making bergamot an expensive flavoring agent.

While there are less expensive, synthetically created essences that resemble the flavor of bergamot, the purest and finest bergamot essence can only be found in Calabria and a powerful agricultural consortium, the Consortia Del Bergamotto is responsible for overseeing its production and for making decisions which affect the global tea industry.

The next time you purchase Earl Grey, let your tea purveyor lift the secret of its secret ingredient and make sure you get to enjoy a cup of true bergamot scented tea!

As for the equally well known “Lady Grey” black tea blend, which by the way is only blended and sold by Twining, it is named after Mary Elizabeth Grey, wife of Charles II.

People used to say that Earl Grey was too strong for the delicate female constitution and could cause rather strange impulses. Therefore, Lady Grey was blended to suit the female palette better and to ease women’s minds and hearts.

Our rendition on this lighter Earl Grey is called Grey Duchess, and blended with lavender and vanilla – truly a delight!

May 10, 2013

Happy Mother’s Day!

Filed under: Tea in Arizona — Kwingert @ 10:10 am

heart tea cupThis Sunday, celebrate all Moms for the wonderful things they do …. with a special cup of tea!

M-O-T-H-E-R”

M is for the Moments she wiped away my tears O is the Opportunity she gave me through the years T is for her Thoughtfulness in everything she does H reminds me of her Heart that’s always filled with love E is the Encouragement that is given out for free R is for Reliable – she’s always there for me

Author: Rebecca Curran                  

and don’t forget – Mothers are like tea kettles – up to their necks in hot water, but they still sing!

May 3, 2013

The Art of Cupping Tea

Filed under: Tea in Arizona — Kwingert @ 10:15 am

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Just like wine connoisseurs, tea aficionados appreciate the difference in aroma and taste of teas, which is dependent on factors  like harvest time, growing region, soil texture and climate. Single origin teas can therefore have subtle changes in their character from year to year or region to region. Many tea drinkers also enjoy the consistency of a blend and count on their favorite English or Irish Breakfast blend to have the same flavor profile each time they buy it.  No matter how we like our teas and what we appreciate in particular,somebody has to evaluate and ascertain their quality.

The daily tea production is cupped and evaluated by professional tea tasters in a very structured way. During this process, the tea tasterexamines the color and feel of the dry and infused leaf, the aroma of the infused leaf and finally the color and flavor in the cup.

  1. Cupping begins with measuring the tea. The dry leaves are laid out  in rows on the tasting bench. The taster weighs a specific amount of each tea and places it in a special small brewing vessel. Sometimes this is a lidded mug (Gaiwan) or a small porcelain teapot. The brewing vessels are always white so that the color of the infusion is easier to assess.
  2.  Boiling water for black teas, and slightly cooler water for green and white teas,  is poured over the leaves which are then allowed to steep for 3-6 minutes depending on the type of tea.
  3. The infusion is then poured into tasting bowls and the infused leave is collected on the lid of the brewing mug.
  4. The tea taster will compare the aroma of the infused leaf to the aroma of the infusion and finally taste the tea to assess its character and particularities. He noisily slurps the tea from a spoon and makes sure that all taste buds are engaged before spitting the tea into a container.

Tea tasters taste hundreds of samples of different teas and tea blends every day. It is a task that requires keen senses and a refined palate – something that is cultivated over many years.  In fact, it takes a long time to become a professional in this art. At least five years of training are needed before becoming a tea master, however even after many decades of tasting, these experts will tell you that they are still learning and refining their skills.

At Souvia,  you can catch a glimpse of what tea tasting is all about.  If you would like to get a “taste” of  the world of tea and learn how to cup like a pro, attend our Tea 101 class – interactive, fun and informative. The last tasting before the summer break will be on Sunday, May 19th!