A tweak to their tea, and Middle England boils over

Trouble has been brewing in England since Twinings, the company credited with introducing the English to tea drinking, decided to slightly alter its recipe for Earl Grey.

LONDON // Forget rioting and looting in the inner cities, England's middle classes are rising up in rebellion … over a nice cup of tea.

Trouble has been brewing since Twinings, the company credited with introducing the English to the pleasures of tea drinking three centuries ago, decided to slightly alter its 180-year-old recipe for Earl Grey.

Rumblings of discontent among traditionalists have now reached boiling point in a Facebook campaign, with dozens of aficionados using some blooming strong language to describe the new tea.

One incandescent contributor described it as "foul-tasting dishwater", another as "utterly gross".

Jane Smith fumed over the moment she first tasted the new blend: "I took a big gulp expecting it to taste lovely and 'bergamotty' but to my utter dismay [and horror as I nearly spat it out] it tasted like lemon cleaning product - vile."

Julia Wilson wrote: "It stinks, rather like lemon Fairy Liquid, and is unpleasant to taste. I threw the contents of my box out into the compost."

The postings on the Bring Back the Original Twinings Earl Grey Tea page have led to several people saying they were scouring the country to find shops that still carry old stocks of the original blend.

But the company, founded in 1706 when Thomas Twining opened London's first tearoom in The Strand, remains unmoved by what it clearly regards as the proverbial storm in a teacup. It points out that since it introduced the new blend - with a hint of lemon and a little more bergamot orange added to the black tea, and branded The Earl Grey as opposed to plain Earl Grey - sales have gone from 57,976kg in April to 63,070kg in July.

Lindsey Williams, the company's brand manager, told this week's Grocer magazine that the decision had been made to tweak the blend when market research found consumers wanted a more refreshing blend.

"As with all changes to blends, our new Earl Grey has undergone rigorous consumer testing, receiving strong preference feedback over the previous blend," she said. That, though, is unlikely to pacify the malcontents in England's shire counties.

"Bring back the old recipe that was refreshing and flavoursome. I cannot describe how awful this new tea tastes," demands one of the posts.

Not that anyone quite knows how the Earl Grey blend - named after Charles Grey, the prime minister in 1831 when Twinings first started marketing it - came into being. One theory is that gifts of tea and oil of bergamot oranges were dispatched to Earl Grey by diplomats in China. The tea supposedly absorbed the bergamot flavour and, on arrival in London, the flavour was deemed to be absolutely spiffing.

The only snag with this story is that similar teas were believed to have found favour among London's tearoom set at least 20 years earlier. But whatever its origins, Earl Grey is proving that it is still capable of getting in hot water today.

dsapsted@thenational.ae

Published: August 30, 2011 04:00 AM

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