Dec 152016
 

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Today is International Tea Day which, on the surface, sounds like a day to celebrate tea drinking. We can, of course, and I will talk about tea consumption in a minute. But the day was originally created as a way to raise awareness about the problems surrounding tea production and how tea plantations, small tea growers, and consumers are impacted by the global tea trade. Simply put, global tea prices are too low to be able to provide workers worldwide with living wages and to prevent child labor without significant global regulation and monitoring. Potentially, therefore, if you drink tea and are not mindful of the source of your product, you may be contributing to world poverty. I have a very simple solution – I don’t drink tea (or coffee, which suffers from the same problems). If you do drink tea, one step forward is to ensure that your tea is produced in an ethical and sustainable way. The Fairtrade Foundation http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/en/what-is-fairtrade/who-we-are is one organization that can help you. What follows is largely drawn from their website.

Since 2005, International Tea Day has officially been observed on 15 December, giving us an opportunity to reflect on the impact of an industry that millions of farmers and workers across the globe depend on for their livelihood.

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The tea sector faces many challenges: unsustainably low prices and wages, the undervaluing of tea as a commodity and changing climate patterns that impact yields, to name just a few. Simply put, tea is too cheap and not enough value goes back to the farmers and workers who depend on it for their living. It’s an issue that the whole industry needs to tackle together, and one that Fairtrade, and the Ethical Tea Partnership, which brings together tea producers, tea companies, certification schemes including Fairtrade, NGOs, and others in the tea industry, are working to address, so that the long-term future of the tea industry can be more sustainable.

Fairtrade’s work in the tea sector aims to enable producers to have more control over their livelihoods. Certified producers receive the Fairtrade Minimum Price for their tea sales as well as the Fairtrade Premium, an extra sum to invest in their communities and businesses as they choose. For smallholder tea farmers, Fairtrade can also open up opportunities to develop knowledge in good agricultural practices, income diversification and climate change adaptation. For workers on tea plantations, Fairtrade Standards aim to ensure decent working conditions and the protection of workers’ rights.

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There are an estimated 285,000 people involved in Fairtrade tea production as smallholder farmers or as workers on Fairtrade certified tea plantations. Kenya, one of the largest exporters of tea to the UK, has 117,000 of these producers alone. Sireet Outgrowers Empowerment Project Company (Sireet OEP), a small producer organization in the Nandi Hills region of Kenya, is an example. Sireet has been Fairtrade certified since 2006 and has been able to implement changes that have brought wide-reaching benefits for its members and their communities.

Sireet OEP considers issues in production such as gender equality, fair business investments, and adapting to climate change. Since Fairtrade certification, the membership of women farmers has gone up from 2.7% to 24%. Investing the Fairtrade Premium on its certified products to support the purchase of transport trucks and its own processing factory has enabled the organization to move up the value chain and created a sustainable model of investment. The dividends from the 12.8% share of the factory purchased by the premium are reallocated into the premium fund each year, to be continually invested in social and environmental projects.

These social projects are chosen by their communities and include a range of initiatives, from school bursaries to health care facilities and water tanks. These community investments not only relieve the immediate burdens but can also have a positive impact on household income of farmers. Workers on Fairtrade certified estates also benefit from Fairtrade Premium. Workers choose themselves how the premium money is spent, through a committee of elected worker representatives, putting the control in their hands to invest in projects that they feel will improve their lives.

We have to face certain harsh realities, however. Certified tea estates are a small percentage of the total of tea producers, and the largest producer of tea by far – China – is not involved in fair trade at all. My way of solving the ethical dilemma – not drinking tea at all – is not really much of a solution. Tea workers need to live, and therefore need consumers. Better to buy only fair trade tea if you drink tea.

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If I get started on the history of tea drinking and tea culture worldwide, this post will never end. Let me confine myself to one simple but important fact. Tea comes from the leaves of one plant: Camellia sinensis. The multitudinous varieties of teas result, not from genetic variety in the plants themselves, but in the modes of growing, picking, and processing. Everything from the fine green powders used in the Japanese tea ceremony to the hard black bricks of Yunnan ultimately come from the same plant. Weather and soil conditions have an impact, so do the quality of leaves picked, and the methods of processing. There are six basic types of tea based on how it is processed:

White: wilted and unoxidized;

Yellow: unwilted and unoxidized but allowed to yellow;

Green: unwilted and unoxidized;

Oolong: wilted, bruised, and partially oxidized;

Black: wilted, sometimes crushed, and fully oxidized; called (called 紅茶 [hóngchá], “red tea” in Chinese tea culture);

Post-fermented: green tea that has been allowed to ferment/compost (called 黑茶 [hēichá] “black tea” in Chinese tea culture).

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One of the great linguistic mysteries of the world is the incredible simplicity of the words used for tea in a range of languages. Cognates of “cha” or “te” are virtually universal and ultimately derive from Chinese. The Chinese character for tea is 茶, originally written with an extra stroke as 荼 (pronounced tú), and acquired its current form during the Tang Dynasty. The word is pronounced differently in the different varieties of Chinese, such as chá in Mandarin, zo and dzo in Wu Chinese, and ta and te in Min Chinese. One suggestion is that the different pronunciations may have arisen from the different words for tea in ancient China, for example tú (荼) may have given rise to tê. Historical phonologists however argue that cha, te and dzo all arose from the same root with a reconstructed pronunciation dra, which changed due to sound shift through the centuries. There were other ancient words for tea, though ming (茗) is the only other one still in common use.

When I drank tea, lapsang souchong was my favorite. Lapsang souchong (立山小种lìshān xiǎo zhǒng) is a black tea originally from the Wuyi region of the Chinese province of Fujian. It is more commonly named 正山小种 – in Simplified Chinese characters, (zhèng shān xiǎo zhǒng) and 正山小種 in traditional Chinese characters. It is sometimes referred to as smoked tea (熏茶). Lapsang is distinct from all other types of tea because lapsang leaves are traditionally smoke-dried over pinewood fires, taking on a distinctive smoky flavor, that is an acquired taste for many.

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Cooking with tea covers the waterfront. You can use your favorite tea as a simmering liquid in place of stock, or you can use tea as an ingredient. Japanese matcha is a favorite for recipes from meat rubs to ice cream. For example:

Matcha and White Chocolate Biscuits

Ingredients

¾ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon plus 2 Tbsp. matcha
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
½ cup (packed) light brown sugar
1½ tbsp honey
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
3 oz white chocolate, chopped

Instructions

Whisk ½ cup granulated sugar and ½ tsp matcha in a small bowl. Set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, and remaining 2 tablespoons of matcha in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter, brown sugar, honey, and remaining ¼ cup of granulated sugar in a medium bowl until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add egg, egg yolk, and lemon zest and mix until very pale, about 4 minutes.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and, with the motor running, add the flour mixture. Mix thoroughly until no dry spots remain. Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, mix in the white chocolate.

Wrap the dough in plastic and chill at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Scoop the dough by the scant tablespoonful on to 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them about 1” apart. Or, portion the same amount of dough into the cups of a mini muffin pan coated with nonstick vegetable oil spray.

Bake, rotating the baking sheet halfway through, until the bottoms and edges are barely golden and cooked (top will no longer look wet), 8–10 minutes.

Immediately—but gently—toss the biscuits in the reserved matcha sugar and place on wire racks to cool.

Jun 182014
 

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On this date in 618 Li Yuan became Emperor Gaozu of Tang, initiating three centuries of Tang Dynasty rule over China. Under the failing Sui dynasty, Li Yuan was the governor in the area of modern-day Shanxi, and was based in Taiyuan. In 615, Li Yuan was assigned to garrison Longxi. He gained military and administrative experience by dealing with the incursions of Göktürks from the north. Li Yuan was also able to gather support from these successes and, with the disintegration of the Sui dynasty in July 617, Li Yuan – urged on by his second son Li Shimin (the eventual Emperor Taizong) – rose in rebellion. Using the title of “Great Chancellor” (大丞相), Li Yuan installed a puppet child emperor, Emperor Gong, but eventually removed him altogether and established the Tang Dynasty in 618 as Emperor. His son and successor Li Shimin honored him as Gaozu (“high founder”) after his death.

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Emperor Gaozu’s reign was focused on uniting the empire under the Tang see map). Aided by Li Shimin, whom he created the Prince of Qin, he defeated all the other contenders, including Li Gui, Dou Jiande, Wang Shichong, Xue Rengao and Liu Wuzhou. By 628, the Tang Dynasty had succeeded in uniting all of China. On the home front, he recognized the early successes forged by Emperor Wen of Sui and strove to emulate most of Emperor Wen’s policies, including the equal distribution of land amongst his people. He also lowered taxes. He abandoned the harsh system of law established by Emperor Yang of Sui as well as reforming the judicial system. These acts of reform paved the way for the reign of Emperor Taizong, which ultimately pushed Tang to the height of its power, and a cultural golden age.

In 626, Li Shimin, in a dispute with his brothers Li Jiancheng, the Crown Prince, and Li Yuanji, the Prince of Qi, ambushed Li Jiancheng and Li Yuanji at Xuanwu Gate, killing them. Fearful of what Li Shimin might do next, Emperor Gaozu passed the throne to him and became Taishang Huang (retired emperor). He died in 635.

Both the Sui and Tang Dynasties turned away from the more feudal culture of the preceding Northern Dynasties, in favor of staunch civil Confucianism. The governmental system was supported by a large class of Confucian intellectuals selected through either civil service examinations or recommendations. In the Tang period, Daoism and Buddhism reigned as core ideologies as well, and played a large role in people’s daily lives, as did indigenous folk religion.

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The Tang capital of Chang’an was the largest city in the world at its time, the population of the city wards and its suburban countryside reaching 2 million inhabitants. Chang’an was very cosmopolitan, with residents from Persia, Central Asia, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Tibet, India, and other places. With widely open access to China via the Silk Road, many foreign settlers were able to move east to China; the city of Chang’an itself had about 25,000 foreigners living there. At first under the Tang, foreign men could marry Chinese women, but they were required to remain in China. Eventually segregation laws were passed requiring foreigners to wear their ethnic dress at all times, and forbidding marriage with Chinese women.

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The Tang period was a golden age of Chinese literature and art. There are over 48,900 poems written by around 2,200 Tang authors that have survived until modern times. Skill in the composition of poetry was required for those wishing to pass imperial examinations. Poetry was also heavily competitive; poetry contests amongst guests at banquets and courtiers were common. Poetry styles that were popular in the Tang included gushi and jintishi, with the renowned poet Li Bai (701–762) famous for the former style, and poets like Wang Wei (701–761) and Cui Hao (704–754) famous for their use of the latter. Jintishi poetry, or regulated verse, is in the form of eight-line stanzas of seven characters per line with a fixed pattern of tones that required the second and third couplets to be antithetical (all of which is lost in translation to other languages).

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The Classical Prose Movement was spurred on in large part by the writings of Tang authors Liu Zongyuan (773–819) and Han Yu (768–824). This new prose style broke away from the poetic, or ‘piantiwen’ style, begun in the Han dynasty. Although writers of the Classical Prose Movement imitated ‘piantiwen’, they criticized it for its often vague content and lack of colloquial language, focusing more on clarity and precision to make their writing more direct.

Short story fiction and tales were also popular during the Tang, one of the more famous ones being Yingying’s Biography by Yuan Zhen (779–831), which was widely circulated in his own time and by the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368) became the basis for plays in Chinese opera. Love tales were exceptionally popular, following a basic plot design of quick passion, inescapable societal pressure leading to the abandonment of romance, followed by a period of melancholy. Unlike Western classics such as Romeo and Juliet, love always bows to social pressure.

There were extensive encyclopedias published in the Tang era on a variety of subjects. The Yiwen Leiju encyclopedia was compiled in 624 by the chief editor Ouyang Xun (557–641) as well as Linghu Defen (582–666) and Chen Shuda (d. 635). The encyclopedia Treatise on Astrology of the Kaiyuan Era was completed in 729 by Gautama Siddha (fl. 8th century), an ethnic Indian astronomer, astrologer, and scholar born in the capital Chang’an.

tang star map

Chinese geographers such as Jia Dan wrote accurate descriptions of places far abroad. In his work written between 785 and 805, he described the sea route going into the mouth of the Persian Gulf, and that the medieval Iranians (whom he called the people of Luo-He-Yi) had erected ‘ornamental pillars’ in the sea that acted as lighthouse beacons for ships that might go astray. Confirming Jia’s reports about lighthouses in the Persian Gulf, Arabic writers a century after Jia wrote of the same structures, writers such as al-Mas’udi and al-Muqaddasi. The Tang dynasty Chinese diplomat Wang Xuance traveled to Magadha (modern northeastern India) during the 7th century. Afterwards he wrote the book Zhang Tianzhu Guotu (Illustrated Accounts of Central India), which included a wealth of geographical information.

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Women’s social rights and social status during the Tang era were notably liberal-minded for the period, although urban women of elite status benefited the most. There were many women in the Tang era who gained religious authority by taking vows as Daoist priestesses. The owners of the bordellos in the North Hamlet of the capital Chang’an acquired considerable wealth and power. Their high-class courtesans, who probably influenced the development of Japanese geishas, were well respected. They were known as great singers and poets, supervised banquets and feasts, knew the rules to all the drinking games, and were trained to have impeccable table manners. Although they were renowned for their polite behavior, the courtesans were known to dominate the conversation amongst elite men, and were not afraid to openly castigate or criticize prominent male guests who talked too much or too loudly, boasted too much of their accomplishments, or had in some way ruined dinner for everyone by rude behavior (on one occasion a courtesan even beat up a drunken man who had insulted her). When singing to entertain guests, courtesans not only composed the lyrics to their own songs, but they popularized a new form of lyrical verse by singing lines written by various renowned and famous men in Chinese history.

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Technology during the Tang period advanced considerably, based on the work of former eras. Clockwork and timekeeping developed rapidly. Tang engineer, astronomer, and monk Yi Xing (683–727) invented the world’s first clockwork escapement mechanism in 725. He used this mechanism in conjunction with a clepsydra (water flow) clock and waterwheel to power a rotating armillary sphere to astronomical observations. Yi Xing’s device also had a mechanically timed bell that was struck automatically every hour, and a drum that was struck automatically every quarter hour. Yi Xing’s astronomical clock and water-powered armillary sphere became well known throughout the country, since students attempting to pass the imperial examinations by 730 had to write an essay on the device as an exam requirement. However, the most common type of public and palace timekeeping device was the inflow clepsydra. Its design was improved c. 610 by the Sui-dynasty engineers Geng Xun and Yuwen Kai. They provided a steelyard balance that allowed seasonal adjustment in the pressure head of the compensating tank and could then control the rate of flow for different lengths of day and night.

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Woodblock printing made the written word available to vastly greater audiences. One of the world’s oldest surviving printed documents is a miniature Buddhist dharani sutra unearthed at Xi’an in 1974 and dated roughly from 650 to 670. The Diamond Sutra is the first full-length book printed at regular size, complete with illustrations embedded with the text and dated precisely to 868. Among the earliest documents to be printed were Buddhist texts as well as calendars, the latter essential for calculating and marking which days were auspicious and which days were not. With so many books coming into circulation for the general public, literacy rates improved, which meant the lower classes were able to obtain cheaper sources of study. Therefore, there were more lower-class people taking, and passing, the Imperial Examinations by the later Song dynasty. Although the later Bi Sheng’s movable type printing in the 11th century was innovative for his period, woodblock printing that had become widespread in the Tang era would remain the dominant printing type in China until the more advanced printing press from Europe became widely accepted and used in East Asia. The first use of the playing card during the Tang dynasty was an auxiliary invention of the new age of printing.

Since the Han dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD), the Chinese had drilled deep boreholes to transport natural gas from bamboo pipelines to stoves where cast iron evaporation pans boiled brine to extract salt. During the Tang dynasty, a gazetteer of Sichuan province stated that at one of these 182 m (600 ft) ‘fire wells,’ natural gas was stored in portable bamboo tubes which could be carried for considerable distances and still produce a flame.

The inventor Ding Huan (fl. 180 AD) of the Han dynasty invented a rotary fan for air conditioning, with seven wheels 3 m (10 ft) in diameter and manually powered. In 747, Emperor Xuanzong had a “Cool Hall” built in the imperial palace, which the Tang Yulin (???) describes as having water-powered fan wheels for air conditioning as well as rising jet streams of water from fountains.

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During the earlier Southern and Northern Dynasties (420–589), and perhaps even earlier, tea drinking became popular in southern China. Tea was viewed then as both a beverage for pleasure and as medicinal. During the Tang dynasty, tea became synonymous with everything sophisticated in society. The Tang poet Lu Tong (790–835) devoted most of his poetry to his love of tea. The 8th-century author Lu Yu (known as the “Sage of Tea”) wrote a treatise on the art of drinking tea, called the Classic of Tea (Cháj?ng).

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In ancient times, the Chinese had codified the five most basic foodstuffs known as the “five grains” – sesamum, legumes, wheat, panicled millet, and glutinous millet. The Ming dynasty encyclopedist Song Yingxing (1587–1666) noted that rice was not counted amongst the five grains from ancient times because its cultivation was not fully developed in China until the 2nd millennium BCE. I guess the concept of “ancient” is relative!

During the Tang era, the most common vegetable cooking ingredients in addition to those already listed were barley, garlic, turnips, soybeans, pears, apricots, peaches, apples, pomegranates, jujubes, rhubarb, hazelnuts, pine nuts, chestnuts, walnuts, yams, and taro. Various meats included pork, chicken, lamb (especially preferred in the north), sea otter, bear (which was hard to get, but there were recipes for steamed, boiled, and marinated bear), and even Bactrian camels. In the south along the coast protein from seafood was the most common. Recipes include jellyfish with cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, cardamom, and ginger, as well as oysters with wine, fried squid with ginger and vinegar, horseshoe crabs and red crabs, shrimp, and pufferfish, which the Chinese called ‘river piglet.’ Some foods were off-limits; the Tang court encouraged people not to eat beef (since the bull was a valuable draft animal), and from 831 to 833 Emperor Wenzong of Tang even banned the slaughter of cattle based on his Buddhist beliefs.

From foreign trade by land and sea the Chinese acquired peaches from Samarkand, date palms, pistachios, and figs from Persia, pine seeds and ginseng roots from Korea, and mangoes from Southeast Asia. There was a great demand for sugar in the Tang era. During the reign of Harsha (c. 606–647) in North India, Indian envoys to Tang China brought two sugar specialists who successfully taught the Chinese how to cultivate sugarcane and produce sugar.

Methods of food preservation were important, and practiced throughout China. The common people used simple methods of preservation, such as digging deep ditches and trenches to contain brined and fermented foods. The emperor had large ice pits located in the parks in and around Chang’an for preserving food, while the wealthy and elite had their own smaller ice pits. Each year the emperor had laborers carve 1000 blocks of ice from frozen creeks in mountain valleys, each block with the dimension of 3 ft (0.91 m) by 3 ft by 3½ ft (1.06 m). There were many frozen delicacies enjoyed during the summer, especially chilled melon.

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Here I give you Dong’an chicken (東安子雞) from the town of Dong’an in Hunan province. It is one of the signature dishes of Hunan cuisine. Recipes date back to the Tang Dynasty. Dong’an style chicken is unusual in that it uses parboiled chicken along with hot peppers, and spices, stir fried in vegetable oil and vinegar. Be sure not to overcook the chicken during the parboil stage, or it will be tough. A wok is preferable for this, but a good cast iron skillet works well enough. The chief problem for Western cooks is not having gas burners that are hot enough to reach desirable temperatures for proper stir frying.

Dong’an Chicken

chicken stock
¾ inch piece fresh ginger, unpeeled
3 scallions
1 fresh hot red pepper
3 dried peppers (optional)
2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
2 tbsp clear rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
4 tbsp lard or vegetable oil
½ tsp Sichuan pepper oil or ½ tsp whole Sichuan pepper
¾ tsp potato flour, mixed with 2 teaspoons cold water
salt
1 chicken (about 2 ¾ lbs)

Instructions

Rinse the chicken and remove the skin. Bring the stock to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the chicken and return the liquid to a boil, skimming the surface as necessary. Crush half the ginger and one scallion with the flat side of a cleaver or heavy object, then add to the pan with the chicken. Reduce the heat and poach the chicken for 10 minutes. Remove the chicken from the cooking liquid and allow it to cool; reserve the cooking liquid. The chicken should be about three-quarters cooked.

Remove the flesh from the carcass and cut into bite-sized strips, along the grain of the meat.

Cut the fresh hot pepper in half lengthwise and discard the seeds and pith. Then cut it into very fine slivers. Peel the remaining ginger and cut it into slices and then slivers. Cut the green parts off the remaining 2 scallions into slivers.

Heat the wok over a high flame until smoke rises, then add the oil and swirl it around. When the oil is warming up but before it is smoking hot, add the fresh hot peppers and ginger, along with the dried chilies and Sichuan pepper, if using, and stir-fry until fragrant, taking care that the seasonings do not take on color.

Add the chicken and continue to stir fry. Splash the Shaoxing wine around the edges of the chicken. Add the vinegar, Sichuan pepper oil, if using, and salt to taste. Add up to ½ cup of the chicken poaching liquid (if the chicken is very juicy no additional liquid will be necessary), bring to a boil and then turn the heat down a little and simmer briefly to allow the flavors to penetrate the chicken, spooning the liquid over it.

Add the potato flour mixture to the liquid and stir as the sauce thickens. Throw in the scallion greens and stir a few times. Remove from heat and stir in the sesame oil.

Serve immediately with steamed rice.

[As a small postscript for interested readers, I am planning to go to China in July and am learning some Mandarin Chinese in preparation.  I am using LearnChineseEZ and finding it very user friendly and helpful — especially with pronunciation. Here is the URL:

http://www.learnchineseez.com ]

Mar 132014
 

NPG 4137,Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey,attributed to Thomas Phillips

Today is the birthday (1764) of Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, KG PC, known as Viscount Howick between 1806 and 1807, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 22 November 1830 to 16 July 1834. A member of the Whig Party, he backed significant reform of the British government and was among the primary architects of the Reform Act 1832. His administration also saw the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. In addition to his political achievements, he has come to be associated with Earl Grey tea.

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Grey was descended from a long-established Northumbrian family seated at Howick Hall, the second but eldest surviving son of General Sir Charles Grey KB (1729–1807) and his wife, Elizabeth (1743/4–1822), daughter of George Grey of Southwick, co. Durham. He had four brothers and two sisters. He was educated at Richmond School, followed by Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, acquiring a facility in Latin, and in English composition and declamation that enabled him to become one of the foremost parliamentary orators of his generation. Grey was elected to Parliament for the Northumberland constituency on 14 September 1786, aged just 22. He became a part of the Whig circle of Charles James Fox, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and the Prince of Wales, and soon became one of the major leaders of the Whig party.

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He was the youngest manager on the committee for prosecuting Warren Hastings. The Whig historian T. B. Macaulay wrote in 1841:

At an age when most of those who distinguish themselves in life are still contending for prizes and fellowships at college, he had won for himself a conspicuous place in Parliament. No advantage of fortune or connection was wanting that could set off to the height his splendid talents and his unblemished honour. At twenty-three he had been thought worthy to be ranked with the veteran statesmen who appeared as the delegates of the British Commons, at the bar of the British nobility. All who stood at that bar, save him alone, are gone, culprit, advocates, accusers. To the generation which is now in the vigour of life, he is the sole representative of a great age which has passed away. But those who, within the last ten years, have listened with delight, till the morning sun shone on the tapestries of the House of Lords, to the lofty and animated eloquence of Charles Earl Grey, are able to form some estimate of the powers of a race of men among whom he was not the foremost.

Grey was also noted for advocating Parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation. His affair with the Duchess of Devonshire, herself an active political campaigner, did him little harm although it nearly caused her to be divorced by her husband. In 1806, Grey, by then Lord Howick owing to his father’s elevation to the peerage as Earl Grey, became a part of the Ministry of All the Talents (a coalition of Foxite Whigs, Grenvillites, and Addingtonites) as First Lord of the Admiralty. Following Fox’s death later that year, Howick took over both as Foreign Secretary and as leader of the Whigs.

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In Charon’s Boat (1807), James Gillray caricatured the fall from power of the Whig administration, with Howick taking the role of Charon rowing the boat. A group of naked British Whig politicians, including three Grenvilles, Sheridan, St. Vincent, Moira, Temple, Erskine, Howick, Petty, Whitbread, Sheridan, Windham,and Tomline, Bishop of Lincoln, crossing the river Styx in a boat named the Broad Bottom Packet. Sidmouth’s head emerges from the water next to the boat. The boat’s torn sail has inscription “Catholic Emancipation” and the center mast is crowned with the Prince of Wales feathers and motto “Ich Dien.” On the far side the shades of Cromwell, Charles Fox and Robespierre wave to them. Overhead, on brooms, are the Three Fates; to the left a three-headed dog. Above the boat three birds soil the boat and politicians.

The government fell from power the next year, and, after a brief period as a member of parliament for Appleby from May to July 1807, Howick went to the Lords, succeeding his father as Earl Grey. He continued in opposition for the next 23 years.

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In 1830, when the Duke of Wellington resigned on the question of Parliamentary reform, the Whigs finally returned to power, with Grey as Prime Minister. His Ministry was a notable one. He oversaw the passage of the Reform Act 1832, which finally saw the reform of the House of Commons, making the election of members of parliament much fairer and representative after centuries of corruption, and the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833. As the years had passed, however, Grey had become more conservative, and he was cautious about initiating more far-reaching reforms, particularly since he knew that the King (William IV) was at best only a reluctant supporter of reform. Unlike most politicians, he seems to have genuinely preferred a private life; colleagues remarked caustically that he threatened to resign at every setback. In 1834 Grey retired from public life, leaving Lord Melbourne as his successor.

Grey returned to Howick but kept a close eye on the policies of the new cabinet under Melbourne, whom he, and especially his family, regarded as a mere understudy until he began to act in ways of which they disapproved. Grey became more critical as the decade went on, being particularly inclined to see the hand of Daniel O’Connell behind the scenes and blaming Melbourne for subservience to the radicals with whom he identified the Irish patriot. He made no allowances for Melbourne’s need to keep the radicals on his side to preserve his shrinking majority in the Commons, and in particular he resented any slight on his own great achievement, the Reform Act, which he saw as a final solution of the question for the foreseeable future. He continually stressed its conservative nature. As he declared in his last great public speech, at the Grey Festival organized in his honor in Edinburgh in September 1834, its purpose was to strengthen and preserve the established constitution, to make it more acceptable to the people at large, and especially the middle classes, who had been the principal beneficiaries of the Reform Act, and to establish the principle that future changes would be gradual, “according to the increased intelligence of the people, and the necessities of the times.”

Grey spent his last years in contented, if sometimes fretful, retirement at Howick, with his books, his family, and his dogs. He became physically feeble in his last years and died quietly in his bed on 17 July 1845, forty-four years to the day since going to live at Howick. He was buried in the church there on the 26th in the presence of his family, close friends, and the laborers on his estate.

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Earl Grey tea is a tea blend with a distinctive smoky flavor and aroma derived from the addition of oil extracted from the rind of the bergamot orange, a fragrant citrus fruit. Traditionally, the term “Earl Grey” has applied only to black teas that contain oil of bergamot as a flavoring.

Bergamotte

Tea flavored with bergamot to imitate the more expensive types of Chinese tea has been known in England at least since the 1820s. In 1837 there is a record of court proceedings against Brocksop & Co. who were found to have supplied tea “artificially scented, and, drugged with bergamot in this country,” but there is no known published reference to an ‘Earl Grey’ tea before advertisements by Charlton & Co. of Jermyn Street in London in the 1880s, though ‘Grey’s Tea’ is known from the 1850s.

The Earl Grey blend, or “Earl Grey’s Mixture”, is assumed to be named after the 2nd Earl Grey, who reputedly received a gift, probably a diplomatic perquisite, of tea flavored with bergamot oil. Bergamot orange (Citrus bergamia) is a small citrus tree which blossoms during the winter and is grown commercially in Italy. It is likely a hybrid of Citrus limetta and Citrus aurantium.

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 appears to be apocryphal, 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) as 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 using bergamot in particular to offset the preponderance of lime in the local water. Lady Grey used it to entertain in London as a political hostess, and it proved so popular that she was asked if it could be sold to others, which is how Twinings came to market it as a brand.

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There are different varieties of a tea known as Lady Grey; the two most common kinds (Lavender Lady Grey and Citrus Lady Grey), which combine Earl Grey tea with lavender and Seville oranges, respectively.

A beverage called “London Fog” is a combination of Earl Grey, steamed milk and vanilla syrup.

There are variations available including such ingredients as jasmine, as well as various flowers. A blend with added rose petals is known as French Earl Grey.  A variety called Russian Earl Grey often contains ingredients such as citrus peels and lemon grass in addition to the usual black tea and bergamot. Also, several companies make a tea called Earl Grey Green or “Earl Green” tea, combining green tea leaves rather than the traditional black tea leaves with bergamot flavoring.

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A similar variation called Earl Grey White or “Earl White” tea combines white tea leaves with bergamot flavoring.

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Rooibos Earl Grey is a variation using this South African herbal tea as a substitute for the conventional form made with black tea. This variation may have originated from Malaysia.

Twinings reformulated their Earl Grey tea in April 2011, claiming to have added “an extra hint of bergamot and citrus.” The overwhelmingly negative comments on their website were picked up by the press, who drew attention to the establishment of a related protest group on Facebook.

I am something of a tea aficionado (not as rabid as my son who has shelf upon shelf of tea varieties and paraphernalia).  I prefer Chinese teas and I have a number of favorites such as longjing, lapsang souchong, and da hong pao. I make them as simple infusions with no additives so that I can savor the basic tea flavors.  Hence, I dislike flavored teas such as Earl Grey where the bergamot oil overwhelms the tea.

While I don’t like Earl Grey as a tea, I’m all right with it as a flavoring for both sweet and savory things.  Here’s a recipe for Earl Grey chocolate cake.

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Image – Susie Kushner

 Earl Grey Chocolate Cake

4 Earl Grey tea bags or 2 tablespoons loose Earl Grey
1 cup water
½ cup (1 stick) butter
3 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup plain yogurt
confectioner’s sugar

Instructions

Pre-heat the oven to 350° F/175°C.

Butter the lining of an 8-cup fluted tube pan.

Bring the water to around 185° F/85°C.  It is a great mistake to brew any tea with boiling water. Too many bitter oils are released.  Infuse the tea bags or tea leaves for 3-5 minutes, then strain the tea and reserve.

Beat the butter, eggs, and granulated sugar until fluffy. Blend in the chocolate. Beat in the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, yogurt, and brewed tea. This can be done by hand or with an electric mixer.  Pour the batter into the cake pan.

Bake 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out with a few crumbs attached. Remove from the oven and let stand 5 minutes. Turn the cake out of the pan on to a wire rack and let cool. Dust with confectioner’s sugar.

Serve in slices at tea time with a pot of unscented tea.

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You can make your own version of Earl Grey by the cup or pot if you have bee balm in the garden. Bee balm (especially Monarda didyma) has high concentrations of an essential oil that is remarkably similar to bergamot, although chemically distinct.  You can infuse these leaves along with black tea, or infuse them by themselves.