Thursday, August 05, 2010

Earl Grey

By Jess Hodges

Perhaps one of the world's best loved teas, the distinctive flavour of Earl Grey has been around since the eighteen hundreds when the story goes some was presented as a diplomatic gift to the man who gave it it's name.

The 2nd Earl Grey was Prime Minister of Britain in 1830, a member of the Whig party and one of the main players in the reform act of 1832. This act abolished slavery across the empire and increased the number of men in the UK who were eligible to vote to 1 in 6. In a round about way it prompted the suffragette movement by specifying for the first time that it was legally only men who could vote and annoying a lot of women.

The bill paved the way for parliamentary reforms that would eventually lead to universal suffrage for men and women and the opposition to it was very strong. Initially the bill was thrown out by the House of Lords twice, prompting Grey to retire. However the Tory opposition leader, the Duke of Wellington, found he was unable to form his own government due to lack of support and a run on the bank of England. Grey was returned to office by the King and was able to push the bill through.

Father to ten sons and six daughters in addition to being in charge of the country, you can imagine that the Earl had need of a decent cup of tea on a regular basis. As a radical reformer in the eyes of many, his political life was anything but relaxed. Even after his retirement in 1834 he stayed involved in politics, mainly to criticise his successor, Lord Melbourn.

He is commemorated by a statue of himself in Newcastle which stands upon a 41m column, gazing across the city. His most lasting monument though is the tea to which he gave his name. The unmistakeable combination of black tea and bergamot oil is known throughout the world as a bold and refreshing afternoon tea. Personally I couldn't think of a finer legacy to leave.