A British-American bluestocking living in the UK writes about politics, pop culture, and emerging new paradigms as they unfold on both sides of the Atlantic. (New content.)

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Earl Grey Tea...Is Nothing Sacred Anymore?

Earl Grey...Messing with a Classic
I didn't grow up drinking hot tea. I grew up imbibing tall, frosty glasses of iced tea, sugar-sweet and just what was always welcomed on the scorching days of living in the Southwest. In general, drinking hot tea was just something that we didn't do in the United States when I was a child. But about two decades ago, I discovered the very aromatic and delightful Earl Grey Tea by Twinings. It became my tea of choice. And when I moved to the UK, I found I could have Earl Grey just about anywhere and in a proper English teapot even when I was at a restaurant.
It was the august Twinings Company (founded in 1706) that came up with the original formulation and  the popular tea was named after Charles, the Second Earl Grey. Eventually, other tea companies came up with similar formulations.

So, it was Twinings Earl Grey that I embraced with all the fervor of  any Regency hostess when I embarked on my new tea drinking life. However,  about five years ago, I noticed that the taste was not the same anymore. The heady bergamot and citrus notes that used to enhance the dark tea were muted and the pungent taste which was crisp on the tongue was just gone.  I quickly did research only to find out that other lovers of Earl Grey were also disappointed in the classic Twinings tea and were convinced that it had been altered.  Around that time, I went to dinner and asked for Earl Grey and was served Ahmad Earl Grey Tea. Ahmad is a competitor to the prestigious Twinings.  And lo and behold!  It was absolutely delicious. I changed over from Twinings to the Ahmad brand and never looked back.

This week, the 180 year old Twinings Earl Grey announced that it has altered its formula. This has upset the tea-drinking public that has considered Earl Grey a British staple. The fans of the old tea (of which I am no longer one) say that the new blend tastes like "dishwater". For me, as I wrote, the blush was off the rose, so to speak, a few years ago. It was evident even back then, that they had cheapened the taste with inferior tea and oils. Apparently, this new formula has been greeted with a lot of negative reviews calling the tea "vile", "horrid", and "positively unpleasant."  (Tea drinkers even leave bad reviews politely, don't they?) A Facebook campaign has been launched demanding to bring back the old formula.

Twinings contends that they wanted to "tweak" the formula to appeal to a younger audience and to people's "developing palates". What?  In that case, why not just put a tiny Nintendo box on the teabag and make it taste like Doritos. That's about how evolved the palate of the general public is, I'm afraid.  Good tea is for the people who love tea and can appreciate it . I have yet to see a tweenie in love with Justin Bieber whining because the taste of Earl Grey wasn't to her liking.

Twinings Earl Grey Tea carries the seal of the Queen. This is supposed to be rather like the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval."  I thought that was really a special mark, until I realized  that Her Majesty also has her official seal on bathroom tissue. So now, we have the Queen's seal on tea that tastes like bathwater. Perfect! 

Will someone pass the Ahmad Earl Grey tea? This Majesty prefers the best.

Ahmad...the Earl Grey for the Connoisseur