Where does that Earl Grey tea come from?

7 1443

earl grey tea imageI was sitting at my desk last week staring at my tea cup, which is ALWAYS full of some form of earl grey tea during the daylight hours. My love of this tea goes back far enough that I’m not really sure when I became hopelessly hooked, but it was probably my summer in England in the early 80s. THAT is a whole other story, but I know it was before I met and dated my wild Englishman for several years in the later 80s, because to my shock and horror he drank plain ole Lipton’s (although he did school me on the proper way to prepare a pot of tea – yes, there was a cozy involved).

Tea is one of those commodities that should be subject to Fair Trade standards and in my humble opinion should be organic and non-GMO as well — for the enjoyment and health of the tea drinker as well as those who work on the farms, which are often in faraway places where the potential for unsafe and unfair practices has been common.

Listen to the Green Divas 5-minute Sleeping Naked is Green segment on Fair Trade Tea

It was in my afternoon early grey haze that I pondered the journey this tea made to my pantry and while I knew the brand I was drinking was all of the above (fair trade, organic, non-GMO), I wondered about how some of the other popular earl grey brands would compare . . . ooooo! An idea?

GD Mizar, Gina and I decided to each do some research on one popular brand and see what we could come up with. Because there are literally THOUSANDS of types of tea, from white to green to black to red and too many herbal and flavor combinations to try to categorize, we decided to just focus on one type of tea. As I was writing this, one additional company, which is worthy of a mention got my attention with a timely press release, so there will be 4 brands featured.

The main questions we asked were:

1. Where was the tea grown?

2. How was the tea grown? Using chemical fertilizers and pesticides or organically or other?

3. Who actually grew and harvested the tea, and how were they treated?

4. How much does it cost?

but first . . .

Who is this Earl Grey anyway?

The 2nd Earl Grey was prime minister of England back in the 1830s, when tea drinking was already a national obsession. There are several stories about the origins of Earl Grey tea in England. One debunked legend that one of the Earl’s men saved a young Chinese boy from drowning and the grateful father presented the Earl with tea that was flavored with the oil of bergamot, which is an aromatic citrus fruit — a small orange tree (Citrus bergamia). Of course, as it turns out the Earl never went to China, so there goes that fun story. It is likely that a Chinese diplomat presented the then prime minister with a gift of this specially flavored tea, and apparently he liked it. Jacksons of Piccadilly claims to have been given the original recipe by the Earl himself back in 1830, and continue to produce it as it was originally formulated.

There are many variations, like one of my favorites, lady grey, which is generally earl grey tea with lavender and Seville oranges. But, if you are like me, you become accustomed to your favorite blend.

A little more about black tea in general

Most of us know that tea originated in China as a medicinal drink way back around 1500 – 1050 BC. Tea played and continues to play many roles in Asian cultures from a formal tea ceremony that originated in China, but was developed by Buddhist monks in Japan into a mindful art. India, which is now well-known for growing some of the most popular brands of tea in the west, was introduced to tea by the British, who were fed up with the Chinese monopoly of this addictive commodity, in the 1800s.

Tea was introduced to western culture via Portugal via priests and traders who had dealings with the Chinese in the 16th century. The English, who elevated tea drinking to a cultural obsession, didn’t catch on till the 17th century. In my research, I found a page devoted to the history of tea in England that is pretty informative for anyone who is interested. Then you have the defiant Americans, who were as attached to their tea as the Brits (remember, they were still English at that point), who got all uppity because of the oppressive British tax on tea and dumped a mess of tea from English ships into Boston harbor in 1773   making tea (or the addiction to it) a catalyst in a historic revolution.

The many colors of tea

Black, green and white tea is made from the camillia sinensis plant. Their ultimate color is determined by how they are processed.

I’ll take mine black – the leaves are crushed and fermented. Black tea is fully oxidized. Black tea contains theaflavins and thearubigens, which help to reduce bad cholesterol and lower the risk of stroke and heart attack. And, of course it has 2 to 3 times more caffeine (unless it is a decaffeinated variety).

Go green – the leaves are withered and steamed. Green tea is un-oxidized, which is why it retains its color. Green tea has loads of a powerful antioxidant, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is lost in the fermentation process of black tea.

White tea? – well it isn’t actually white, but because it is made from the buds and the leaves and is oxidated in a certain way, it has a silvery appearance. It’s all good. And while it has all the health benefits of its black and green siblings, it has the most antioxidants.

Health benefits of black tea

There are literally thousands of claims and studies about all varieties of tea and it’s benefits to our health – well, we have to rationalize this socially acceptable addiction, right? From increasing cardiovascular function to decreasing chances of many cancers to its effectiveness in treating intestinal stress because of  its high level of tannins, tea also is credited with some surprising things.

Did you know . . . 

  • black tea prevents tooth decay because of the fluoride it contains
  • black tea is loaded with antioxidants, such as flavonoids, and is known to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, preventing damage in both the bloodstream and at artery walls, and lowering the risk of heart disease
  • a compound in black tea called TF-2 causes some cancer cells to go into apoptosis (cancer cell suicide – yes!) while normal cells stay healthy
  • all tea has phytochemicals. studies show that tea drinkers have stronger bones than non-tea drinkers, and these phytochemicals are the likely cause
  • the list goes on and on and on . . .

Here’s what we found out about
4 different brands of earl grey tea

legend:

No_GMO_Icon2non-GMO

FT_Icon2 Fair Trade

Org_icon2 Organic

numi aged early grey tea box imageNumi Organic Tea – Aged Earl Grey

No_GMO_Icon2FT_Icon2Org_icon2

No one was assigned this one, but I got a press release at the last minute and I have always liked Numi teas, so I asked if they had an early grey we could feature and they did. I haven’t tried this one yet, but hope to soon!

Where is it grown?
Numi works with the Sewpur Tea Estate, a cooperative consisting of more than 330 workers in Assam, India.

How is it grown?
Certified Organic and Verified NON-GMO

Who grows it?
Sewpur Tea Estate has been working with Numi for two years. Fair Trade funds have been used to build a new school and provide scholarships; distribute fuel-efficient cooking stoves (chullas) and mosquito nets; build new roads; and develop women’s empowerment programs.
How much does it cost?
$6.99 – 18 tea bags

Paisley earl grey tea box image
 
Paisely Tea Company – Organic Double Earl Grey
No_GMO_Icon2FT_Icon2Org_icon2

This is my current go-to tea that started this fun project. Love the taste, love the price, and I love paisley designs. Here’s a silly pic I took of the inner bag, which is plastic, but I can’t help admire the design:
Paisely_baganyway, about the tea . . .

Where is it grown?
South India
How is it grown?
Organic. Only natural, approved fertilizers are used
Who grows it?
Our Paisley Teas are Fair Trade certified
How much does it cost?
$5.99 – 24 tea bags
 
Celestial Seasonings Earl Grey tea box imageCelestial Seasonings – Victorian Earl Grey
 
GD Mizar focused on this one . . .
 
Where is it grown?
Assam and Kenya
How is it grown?
Using conventional chemical pesticides and fertilizers (although the packaging says natural)Who grows it?
Don’t knowHow much does it cost?*
$4.99 – 25 tea bags
 

Twining’s of London – Earl Grey 

twinings earl grey tea box image

GD Gina did the research on this one . . .

Where is it grown?
Kenya, Sri Lanka, China, some is even grown in Poland. Everything is processed, packaged and produced in the UK

How is it grown?
The majority of their tea is conventional and grown with the use of pesticides, but they do have an organic blend

Who grows it?
They weren’t clear on exactly how the conventional tea growers were treated, but they stressed their new fair-trade certified varieties meeting the EPP (Environmentally Preferable Purchasing) standards.

How much does it cost?*
$3.00 – 25 tea bags

*as I wrote this question down for these last two that are not organic or fair trade certified, I wish I had the time, energy and brain power to calculate the REAL cost of using chemical fertilizers and pesticides — for the people working on the farms and the environment. Also, what is value of a worker, who is fairly treated and is afforded reasonable living conditions? There are costs for the abuse of people, whether it is economic, ethical, spiritual or cultural but I believe it all of those. I hope that the demand for safe, sustainable tea (and food) becomes great enough that no matter WHAT the cost, it is the standard rather than a specialty.

woman_in_field

 

Bonus:

toxins in tea bags ?Is your tea bag toxic? ahhhhhh . . . Read this excellent post by Dr. Mercola for the Green Divas about what’s in most tea bags . . . then go and get some loose tea! 

Meanwhile,

eat. drink loose tea. be merry!

image of earl grey tea via shutterstock
image of woman in tea field via shutterstock 

About the author / 

Green Diva Meg
megan@thegreendivas.com'

(aka Megan McWilliams) is a green living expert and media personality as the producer and host of the Green Divas Radio Show. She has been sharing low-stress ways of living a deeper shade of green for over 20 years. She also produces podcasts and videos for the Green Divas and other clients through the Green Diva Studio.

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7 Comments

  1. siriusstar@yahoo.com'
    deenie April 6, 2013 at 7:57 pm -  Reply

    I love the taste of Earl Grey. So far, the best tasting is Ahmed’s (much better than Twining’s) which is based in London. But it isn’t Fair Trade or organic. So, I will try the Numi and the Paisley brands you suggested and hope for good results. Thanks for your efforts!

  2. rroesler@hotmail.com'
    tropicbob April 7, 2013 at 8:57 am -  Reply

    Thank you. I eat very healthy (vegetarian and mostly organic) but drink a lot of iced green tea. It never occurred to buy organic tea, although I buy organic coffee.. Now I willl and will mix black and green together when making a pot of iced tea.

  3. -@gmail.com'
    Gavin July 14, 2013 at 4:05 pm -  Reply

    teavana makes an outstanding earl grey loose tea.

  4. mullermaryjane876@gmail.com'
    Slow Reader December 14, 2013 at 2:47 am -  Reply

    My husband has just come back from a trip to India with a box of ‘Typhoo’ Earl Grey. It is nice enough. We live in Zimbabwe and the Tanganda tea estates in the Eastern highlands (which produce the best breakfast tea I’ve ever tasted) also make their own Earl Grey, which tastes as good to me as Twinings or any other. Every time I travel to the UK, friends and relatives ask me to bring ‘real’ Tanganda tea.

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