View OED entry

Earl Grey noun earlier than 1929

Bryn supplied evidence from 1914 and Glyn Hughes provided evidence of “Earl Grey’s mixture” from 1884.

This blend of tea flavoured with bergamot is said to have been popularized by Charles, the second Earl Grey (1764–1845). Although OED editors have found evidence for ‘Earl Grey’s mixture’ from as early as 1891, the first example referring to tea in the entry for Earl Grey dates from 1934, in an advertisement from the New York Times.

Furthermore, since that entry was first published, we have found an earlier use from 1929:

1929 ‘J. Swift’ Chronicles of a Gigolo xi. 113 She brought me beef tea, port wine and jellies from Robert Jackson’s, and his Earl Grey tea, and tracts on animals and Christian Science.

Can you help us find even earlier evidence of Earl Grey referring to tea?

Posted by OED_Editor on 11 October 2012 6.13
Comments: 18

  • Alanjslater

    According to this – – Jacksons of Piccadilly have been blending and selling it continuously since 1830. I suggest you ask them for evidence.

  • Don B

    This quote refers to “Earl Grey’s Mixture” in relation to tea… (so, not “Earl Grey tea” specifically, but thought it might be helpful)

    TITLE: Life and reign of Queen Victoria: being
    a complete narrative of her grand life and beneficent reign… her
    diamond jubilee celebration, her closing days… and the accession of
    her successor, including the lives of King Edward VII and Queen
    AUTHOR: Murat Halstead, Augustus J. Munson
    PUBLISHER: International Publishing Society, 1901; p. 222

    tea consumed by the Royal household in England is always bought at a
    quaint old fashioned shop in Pall Mall and has been bought there during
    the reigns of Queen Victoria’s five predecessors It costs five shillings
    and four pence a pound and was for a long while known as ‘Earl Grey’s
    Mixture’ this nobleman having recommended this particular mixture to Her

  • John Orford

    The original tea is The Earl Grey’s Tea and I suspect that this is the copyrighted name, . “Earl Grey” is a tea of roughly similar taste made by the well-know firm of Tom, Dick and Harry,

  • The British Newspaper Archive has “Earl Grey’s mixture” in seven advertisements for tea, all from 1884.

    They are only OCR snippets, but the eight tend to confirm one another as
    the same text in the London Standard and the [London] Morning Post.
    Here is the earliest, 19 June 1884:

    “…TEA, EARL GREY’S MIXTURE. This choice Tea can only be obtained of
    the Introducers and Sole Proprietors, CHARLTON and CO., 20,
    Jermyn-street, near Regent-street.”

    Just as speculation, might this tea be named not for the second Earl
    Grey, Charles (1764-1845), as various contradictory stories have it, but
    his now less famous son, the third Earl Grey, Henry (1802-1894)?

    Stephen Goranson 

  • Hugo

    Not what you’re after, but I found a slightly earlier “Earl Grey’s mixture”. The current one is from a US newspaper dated November 1891. This new one is from an Australian newspaper from May 1891 and the text is very similar with some words and the currency changed.

    The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950) Saturday 23 May 1891 p 7 Article”Food for the Royal Household.”THE tea consumed by the Royal household in England is always bought at a quaint, old fashioned shop at Pall Mall, and has been purchased there during the reigns of Queen Victoria’s five predecessors. It costs 5s 4d per lb., and was for a long time known as ‘Earl Grey’s mixture,’ this nobleman having recommended this particular mixture to her Majesty.”'s%22%20tea&searchLimits=l-textSearchScope=*ignore*%7C*ignore*|||toyyyy=1928|||l-word=*ignore*%7C*ignore*#pstart9191068

  • 1891 The Spectator Volume 27 page 28 “a cup of Earl Grey tea balanced precariously on the edge of the bath”

    • OED_Editor

      Thank you. This is a very promising citation.

      • Hugo

        Unfortunately this is a false alarm. There’s lots of misdated books in Google Books, and especially plenty of misdated Spectators, including this one which when I searched for it was dated 1810:

        “There I was lying in an extremely hot bath smoking a high tar cigarette with a cup of Earl Grey tea balanced precariously on the edge of the bath and listening to Maria Callas singing Rossini and all the while there was a man downstairs …”

        For one thing, Maria Callas was born in 1923. Clicking through to the snippet, the text was written by Jeffrey Bernard (born 1932) and the same page mentions BBC2 (launched in 1964) and a Horizon documentary (first broadcast 1964). Finally, at the top of the page Google suddenly decides to say its from 1981.


        PS you can ignore the 1891 “Earl Grey’s mixture” I found, I just spotted Stephen Goranson’s 1884s.

  • Julia Suits  This Iowa paper published an ad where the phrase, Earl Grey’s Mixture, is described as a type of tea. Same ad I found in one other paper. 

  • Julia Suits

    re my previous comment:  In a nutshell, the ad reads, “Victoria’s tea…It costs a pound and is known as Earl Grey’s mixture.”  1891 

  • Julia Suits

    I found ref to tea a + Earl Grey in “Life and Reign of Queen Victoria,” 1901 by Morris, Halstead, Munson Page 222

  • Jeremy KG Weijerman

    I don’t have any specific texts to refer to, but two tea
    merchants–Twinings and Fortnum & Mason–each claim to sell the
    original Earl Grey mixture, and have been making that claim since the
    early or mid 19th century. It
    is quite possible that some of their advertising materials or catalogues
    from the middle of that century would have some reference to Earl
    Grey’s tea, though one would need to find and search through those
    materials. Twinings’s claim to having the original
    recipe can be easily refuted, as theirs includes Darjeeling, which had
    not yet seen cultivation of tea by the Earl Grey’s time; nevertheless,
    they have repeated the claim for well over a century.

  • Bryn_OED

    In the Sunday Times Digital  archive [8th November, 1914; p 13] is an advert [by Robert Jackson & Co] for “Selected Packages for the Front”; within the text describing [package] No.14 is the text “… 1lb Earl Grey Tea …”

  • Glyn Hughes

    Apart from the origin of English bergamot tea in the 1820’s reported at and elsewhere, ‘Mbanu’ at ingeniously points out that as the first known reference to EGT is from Chorlton & Co in the 1800’s, they took over the business of “Thorpe & Grey” who must surely have produced a ‘Greys Tea’, perhaps given new life by having a Prime
    Minister named Grey in office.

  • Glyn Hughes

    We’ve found ‘The Celebrated Tea, Earl Grey’s Mixture’ back to 1884, and ‘Grey’s Tea’ to 1864.

    • Glyn Hughes

      Aha! we’ve found Charlton’s advertising ‘the Celebrated Grey Mixture’ tea in 1867, and then, similar adverts from the same company a few years later with the ‘earl’ added.

  • Bryn_OED

    Following the recent OED Blog entry on “Earl Grey Tea”:

    The OED noted: “However, there is some reason to question the account of the 2nd Earl Grey making tea recommendations to Queen Victoria, since he was no longer active in public life by the time she became monarch, at the age of 18, in 1837”

    The digitized versions of Princess / Queen Victoria’s journals might help to throw a little more light on this:
    * On the plus-side, Victoria noted several occasions involving Earl Grey – e.g.: 7th May 1834 [Earl Grey], or 3rd May 1837 [Earl Grey and Lady Georgiana Grey].
    * On the down-side, Victoria doesn’t seem to note Earl Grey Tea [or Bergamot], although she did note other fashions in tea – e.g.: 27th February 1839 [“Lord Melbourne … talked with Lord Ashley about the new Assam Tea &c., and said, that Lord Auckland said, if it was only palatable that would be a great thing”], or 18th March 1839 [“Talked of this new Assam tea”]

  • Mark Lenihan

    The John Johnson Collection of Printed
    Ephemera has the image of what looks like a wrapper from Jackson’s of
    Piccadilly which they date to between 1890 and 1910 which show’s ‘Earl Grey’s
    Tea’ and ‘The World famous original blend’.