[As long as we still have a few rainy, grey days in the forecast, we thought we might be able to slip in one last piece from The Tea Lady, who says that Earl Grey is actually the ideal tea for the warmer months.]
No self-respecting British tea-drinker should talk about tea without mentioning Earl Grey, literally the aristocrat of popular teas in Britain.
The tea is named after Charles Grey, Second Earl Grey, British Parliamentarian, Reformer, and Abolitionist, reputedly after a gift of scented black tea from a Chinese mandarin. The classic blend of China black tea infused with oil of bergamot is one of the most refreshing afternoon drinks. It's fantastic on a hot English summer day, sitting in the shade, as the heat of the day starts to fade.
The offshoot to Earl Grey, Lady Grey, is a lighter blend, which mixes a China tea base with a lighter note of bergamot, balanced by a hint of orange and lemon.
Because oil of bergamot is so strong, it can cover up all manner of second-rate tea-leaves. Whilst Twinings, which was the first company to sell Earl Grey tea commercially in the 1800s, does a good bag – however, the best earl greys, like all teas, come loose leaf.
Bagged tea is, obviously, less fresh, and rarely has the best pick of leaves. My favourite Earl Grey tea is from Fortnum and Mason – the British version of dean and deluca>, which has been selling fine produce to British aristocracy under Royal Warrant since 1707.
Pompous and elitist at the start – but today, if you like tea, chutney, port, stilton, and pâté it's a little like heaven. If you ever get to London, Fortnums, like the nearby Ritz, is a classic location for afternoon tea. The Fortnum's Earl Grey is a blend of Ceylon and China teas. Unlike most other teas, whose flavours are opened up with a dash of milk or a slice of lemon, Earl Grey is best drunk straight and simple.
And just to get your mouth watering, here is the classic afternoon tea menu from the Fortnum and Mason's tea shop:
"A miniature Open Sandwich of London Smoked Salmon with Crème Fraîche and Lime
English Chicken Breast and Onion Marmalade
Free Range Egg Mayonnaise
Cream Cheese and Slivers of Cucumber
Poached Loch Duart Salmon Mayonnaise
Freshly Baked Farmhouse Plain & Fruit Scones, served with
Somerset Clotted Cream and Fortnum & Mason Strawberry Preserve
Two Reception Pastries from our Classic Selection"