Earl Grey tea has been a favorite variety of Britain’s favorite beverage since the early 1800s when it made its first appearance in English society. Traditionally, this staple is defined by the mixture of black tea with flavoring of oil from the rind of a bergamot orange, which gives this tea its bold, citrus-y taste!
In addition to becoming an icon, this blend has inspired other varieties, such as Lady Grey, which is made by adding lemon peel and orange peel oil to Earl Grey tea. The “London Fog” is another hot beverage that owes its popularity to Earl Grey tea, as it is made from combining Earl Grey with steamed milk and vanilla syrup. Whichever variation you prefer, the Earl has proved he is here to stay in the cups of tea-drinkers worldwide!
Behind the brew is the legacy of one of Britain’s prime ministers, the 2nd Earl Grey. Although Charles Grey is legendary for his persistence in the passing of the act to abolish slavery in the British Empire in 1833, he has literally become a household name for his persistence in brewing his favorite tea.
Legend has it that this blend was presented to Charles Grey as an act of gratuity towards Grey’s men by a Chinese man for saving his son from drowning! However heroic, tale is viewed as false due to the improbability that Charles Grey ever traveled to China. Whatever the true nature of the discovery of this beloved blend, Charles Grey was its biggest fan and so the tea is appropriately named!
While Charles Grey is most well-known for his passions of tea and equality, one of his secret passions has been brought to the spotlight in the 2008 movie “The Duchess.” The 2nd Earl Grey harbored forbidden love for the Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Spencer, who was married to the controlling and unfaithful Duke.
In an effort to keep busy and away from her husband, Georgiana became heavily involved in the politics and promoted the Whig party, of which Charles Grey was a prominent member and rising in position.
The movie suggests that Charles and Georgiana were acquainted and friendly before their political involvements and before Georgiana’s marriage to the Duke, although they did not act upon their feelings for one another until they were working closely with the Whig party. Charles Grey is portrayed by Dominic Cooper, Keira Knightely is The Duchess, Georgiana, and Ralph Fiennes makes a handsome Duke that is easy to hate.
Empathy lies with Charles and Georgiana throughout the film, as their true love is starkly contrasted by the Duke and Duchess’s marriage based solely on status and producing a male heir. Charles and Georgiana pursue their relationship in secret, despite their societal constraints, and have a daughter together named Eliza.
It is known that Eliza was raised by Charles Grey’s parents as his younger sister, and was visited in secret by the Duchess until her death. You’ll have to watch “The Duchess” to find out whether Charles and Georgiana can keep their love alive, which proves a true testament to the unknown sacrifices made by those bound by the chains of society and status.
It would be only fitting to sip on a cup of Earl Grey while you watch the 2nd Earl personified on screen! While the movie may not be exactly historically accurate, it gives history buffs and tea devotees alike the chance to peek into the personal, secret life of a household favorite. Now that we know our favorite Earl exemplifies following your heart, it is no coincidence that he liked his tea the way he lived his life: bold and bright.
I hope that we as Earl Grey tea drinkers can be reminded of the same admirable qualities in the Earl that are found in his namesake tea, and be redirected, if need be, to follow our own hearts.
Devin Smith is a recent graduate of the University of Connecticut with a degree in English and working in the bridal industry. She became smitten by Britain as a result of her semester abroad in London, where she developed a fancy for tea, Strongbow and Primark, among all things British. She particularly enjoys a fruit infusion after work or before bed (or both!) and Cadbury chocolate bars from her hometown in rural Connecticut.