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Bergamot & Robert Fortune


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Edited: Jan 10, 2012, 2:56pm Top

I got For All the Tea in China for my SantaThing this year, and just picked up The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea with my very last Bookmooch point. An excellent mini-tea haul!

So, here's my question. There are two references in For All the Tea in China to scented tea, namely jasmine and bergmont - in particular bringing bergmont from China to India (pg. 192 in the paperback edition). Being a popular work, there aren't any footnotes but she generally mentions working from Fortune's memoirs. However, Michael Harney counters with the very well known fact that Earl Grey tea isn't Chinese, going so far to say that bergamont isn't found there at all. Having just read both, this contradiction stuck in my head.

Looking up Google books and the like, Fortune doesn't explicitly mention bergmont in his writings, but talks about flavoring teas with orange flowers (along side his mention of Jasmine). Still, that doesn't seem right - bergamont is used for it's oil, right? Can anyoe clear this up?

Jan 10, 2012, 4:44pm Top

I'm about to start For All the Tea in China myself, having just borrowed it from the library.

I went to Wikipedia, which is also contradictory. The entry on Earl Grey tea says "The Earl Grey blend is named after 2nd Earl Grey, British Prime Minister in the 1830s and author of the Reform Bill of 1832, who reputedly received a gift, probably a diplomatic perquisite, of tea flavoured with bergamot oil. Bergamot is a citrus fruit typical of Southeast Asia and grown commercially in Italy."

However, it then goes on to add "According to one legend, a grateful Chinese mandarin whose son was rescued from drowning by one of Lord Grey's men first presented the blend to the Earl in 1803. The tale has no basis in fact, as Lord Grey never set foot in China and the use of bergamot oil to scent tea was then unknown in China. However, this tale is subsequently told (and slightly corrected) on the Twinings website, as "having been presented by an envoy on his return from China".

Jacksons of Piccadilly claim they originated Earl Grey's Tea, Lord Grey having given the recipe to Robert Jackson & Co. partner George Charlton in 1830. According to Jacksons, the original recipe has been in constant production and has never left their hands. Theirs has been based on China tea since the beginning.

According to the Grey family, the tea was specially blended by a Chinese mandarin for Lord Grey, to suit the water at Howick Hall, the family seat in Northumberland, using bergamot in particular to offset the preponderance of lime in the local water."

In the entry on bergamot, Wikipedia says bergamot as used for flavouring Earl Grey tea is an essence derived from the peel of the Bergamot orange (Citrus bergamia) that is native to Italy. Nothing about Southeast Asia.

Oranges, however, have been cultivated in China since 2500 BC (Wikipedia, again), so orange flowers would be plausible, and also orange peel.

Mar 26, 2012, 3:40pm Top

does the author say where Earl Grey tea is from ?

Jun 23, 2012, 7:42am Top

I remember having read somewhere that the said Chinese mandarin who offered this blend came from the area of Hangzhou in China. Apparently this blend / scented tea was popular there at that time, while in present-day China no such blends or scented teas are found.

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