Earl Grey has always been a blend which possesses a special ability to stir up strong opinions. You either love it or hate it.
You could say that we have an equally strong opinion on the matter too.
We resent the fact that today's Earl Greys are poorly reproduced with low quality and substitute ingredients. But we're equally eager to do it right, to recreate an authentic Earl Grey that successfully harks back its golden era of the 1800s.
Since the beginning of Informal Tea we've come across steady requests for an Earl Grey tea but we've been uneasy about how we should produce it. We'd never want to sell a tea that we didn't truly believe in, and if we were going to produce an Earl Grey, it seemed like we'd have to re-invent the blend ourselves.
So what is all this fuss about? How could it possibly be so hard to make an Earl Grey when every other tea company in the world seems to have one?
The problem stems from a little citrus tree called the Bergamot Orange.
If you're in the know, you'd probably know that Bergamot is the flavour that makes an Earl Grey taste like an Earl Grey. What other tea companies do is grab some cheap tea, smother it with the scent and flavour of artificial (or natural if you're really lucky) bergamot oil to cover the poor taste of their tea and go "ta-da — Earl Grey tea!".
This method is completely wrong in our (and history's) eyes. Bergamot should be added to compliment the tea's flavour rather than cover it up. It needs to start with a sweet and floral Chinese black tea and blended with the zesty skin of a Bergamot Orange.
Simple enough right?
Not quite so simple as it turns out. The Bergamot Orange is a small fruit tree that is grown almost exclusively in a small coastal strip of southern Italy. The industry is tightly controlled and set up to produce oil extract (used in perfumes and tea) from it's skin.
Sourcing the dried Bergamot peel itself for tea blending was becoming a next to impossible mission (let alone searching for organic), so we started to think about growing it ourselves.
Now we're getting pretty used to doing things ourselves in order to break free from industry standards. But looking for plants or seeds was quickly becoming a fruitless (excuse the pun) endeavor. After many a day of research and investigation, we finally stumbled across a grower on Ebay (of all places) who had 15 Bergamot Orange seeds for sale!
By the time we got there, 10 seeds had sold but we quickly snapped up the final 5 seeds.
Today they arrived from Italy in a small envelope. So now here we are with 5 Bergamot seeds and half expecting the Polizia di Statoto show up any moment demanding their country's precious seeds back — you can't say we don't go the extra mile for good tea!
But all of this is for the long term and we realise that we cant leave all our Earl Grey fans out there in the cold waiting years for our orchard to grow.
So looking at the short term, we had a brainstorming session and came up with some ideas on how we can improve on what's currently available. We're working on this right now, so expect to see an Informal Earl Grey tea in the near future.