Killing Earl Grey
At S P I R I T, we often disparage the perfectly normal tea types that happen to lie outside of our ethos. Flavored teas, teas that are blends with non-tea ingredients and even (for a different reason) scented teas. Most major tea companies make their millions selling just what I've described. But few titles escape the fury of our lips so often as Earl Grey.
Most of its legend is nonsense. And, for what it's worth, orientalist. According to the most popular legend, white savior Charles, 2nd Earl Grey, saved a hapless mandarin's son from drowning during his time in China. The mandarin was so grateful that he sent a shipload of black tea to England, blended with Bergamot for flavor and preservation in the long overseas voyage. In addition to the fact that Charles Grey never went to China, bergamot doesn't grow in China and a mandarin would never have the financial resources to charter a trade ship to England—the whole story reeks of Western exceptionalism.
And if you've ever seen an actual bergamot in your life or even know what one is, I commend you. The worst part of earl grey is, it is always artificial. Unfortunately, someone didn't just juice fresh bergamot over your tea leaves. That was done with chemical oils. Most tea companies use these chemical additives which come in giant plastic containers with warning labels printed over the sides. When a little oil leaks over the lid it stains the label and the plastic permanently.
Some of these companies have labeled it "Natural Earl Grey flavor" or "Natural Bergamot flavor" but nothing could be more misleading or untrue.
So when most people taste black teas like our Qi Lan, which we've affectionately dubbed "true earl grey", which express strong citrus character—without the aid of chemicals or flavorings, only the natural beauty of the leaf and the land and people behind it—people either find it "light" (compared to the lab engineered synthetic flavoring they're accustomed to) or are amazed to learn that the leaf can possess such naturally beautiful characteristics. Tasting and appreciating a leaf for its simple, understated beauties is a process that takes patience.
As you can see, we get a little irked when it comes to public lies of the tea industry like this. Not just because it hurts our young business, but because we believe passionately in what we do—and that tea is first and foremost a story of the earth.
But that's why we're here. To drink tea with you.