The Hazy Origins How Earl Grey Tea Got Its Name

Tea is an essential aspect of English culture, one of these being Earl Grey — serving as "a symbol of sophistication" across the globe (via The Whistling Kettle). Simply saying the name evokes scenes of bowler hats, accents, and fog rolling in over London. In fact, the popular London Fog latte uses Earl Grey as its base. The citrusy hint that powers through the foam, milk, and vanilla? That's Earl Grey.

While the tea remains well-known and can easily be found on grocery store shelves, it has more foggy aspects. Like, how exactly did Earl Grey get its name? Some tea names lead with their main ingredients, such as mint, licorice, or raspberry leaf. Others are generic or specific — think green tea versus Irish Breakfast. Earl Grey is not either of these things. It does not indicate ingredients and isn't just a generic label. No, Earl Grey is a specific concoction of ingredients with a historical backstory that borders on myth.

The Earl of Grey received it as a gift

According to GOV.UK, the name for Earl Grey tea can be attributed to Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl of Grey and a Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Grey was responsible for important political reforms such as the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, which abolished slavery in the British Empire. He reportedly received a gift of black tea, likely from a foreign dignitary, that was flavored with bergamot, which is responsible for its delicate, citrusy taste. The tea became widely popular in the court, and British merchants were soon recreating it for the masses.

Though the story presented by the government seems most likely the case, two more theories exist on how this unique tea got its name. The first is that Grey saved the life of a Chinese tea enthusiast and was presented with his own blend as a "thank you" gift (via Art of Tea). The second theory is that the Grey household developed the flavor to complement the water profile of their house since it was exceptionally heavy in minerals. According to Stories About Tea, "the Bergamot blend was made for Charles Grey specifically to offset the lime-infused water that was local to Howick Hall, where the family resided."  Regardless of the origin of the tea's name, Earl Grey continues to stand out as a unique choice that has found its way into desserts and other drinks