earl earl earl, earl of grey (yes, I’m the earl of grey)

Since last writing about tea in general and Tazo’s Earl of Grey in particular (“do you think that popeye and olive oil drank earl grey at tea time?“), I have tried to other earls: Twinings’ Earl Grey Tea and Stash’s Earl Grey Black & Green Tea. I can report with comfort that, for my taste, while both are good (the blend is interesting but I prefer each separately) neither holds a candle to the Tazo.


Which leads us to the idiom, can’t hold a candle to: the phrase apparently has its origins in England in the 17th century. It first appeared in print in Sir Edward Dering’s The Fower Cardinal-Vertues Of A Carmelite Fryar in 1641: “Though I be not worthy to hold the candle to Aristotle.”

“Apprentices used to be expected to hold the candle so that more experienced workmen were able to see what they were doing. Someone unable even to do that would be of low status indeed.”

It was apparently first used in print in the way that we currently use and understand the phrase in 1883 in William Norris’ novel No New Thing: “Edith is pretty, very pretty; but she can’t hold a candle to Nellie.” (The Phrase Finder)


Which brings us ’round again to tea: with Tazo (my “Earl of Grey”), the essence of the necessary bergamot is much more evident in the taste. Perhaps with time, my palate may yearn for subtlety, but at this point in time I prefer the sweet, perfumey aftertaste of the fruit of the Citrus aurantium bergamia. 

I have no idea why the old Gene Chandler hit Duke Of Earl popped into my head while writing this piece, but it did. A bit of hummable, unforgettable silliness from the early ’60s (“Duke Duke Duke, Duke of Earl . . . Yes, I’m the Duke of Earl”), Chandler hit the toppermost of the poppermost charts and had one of the few doo-wop hits after that genre’s run of popularity in the ’50s.

The other early ’60s doo-wop biggie was, of course, the Marcels’ inane, wonderful arrangement and performance of Blue Moon. Anyway, I did a brief piece on Duke Of Earl for my other site (“duke duke duke, duke of earl“) that includes a vintage video of Chandler as the Duke. Give it a read and a view.

PS: Oh, yeah: fower is an old Scottish variant on four. Almost sounds like the way Paul pronounced “four” in the count-off that opens I Saw Her Standing There. Nyet? Da?

Comments, suggestions, additions, and arguments welcome!