Earl Grey tea is a tea blend which has been flavoured with oil of bergamot. The rind’s fragrant oil is added to black tea to give Earl Grey its unique taste.
Traditionally, Earl Grey was made from black teas such as Chinese keemun, and therefore intended to be drunk without milk. However, tea companies have since begun to offer Earl Grey made from stronger teas such as Ceylons, which are better suited to the addition of milk or cream. Other varieties have been introduced as well, such as green or oolong.
Bergamot oranges are grown in Calabria, Italy and parts of France. The fruit more closely resembles limes in appearance. The flavor of bergamot oranges is a blend of a variety of citrus fruits. It looks like a cross between an orange and a lime, but taste more like a grapefruit or lemon. The bergamot orange tree is believed to be a hybrid of the orange tree native to Seville and the lemon tree native to Southeast Asia.
The art and style of the tea master will define not only which type but also how much bergamot is used in a particular Earl Grey blend. Depending on the flavor of the base tea, a tea master may decide to use a subtle amount of bergamot flavor so as not to cover up the delicate flavor of the tea leaves. Or a tea master may decide to give a bold, sharp black tea a hefty kick of bergamot to stand up to the bold flavor profile of the tea leaves.
Earl Grey believe it or not is not its own category of tea. It falls into the category of flavored teas. Flavored teas include any type of tea — white, green, oolong, black—that has been scented or flavored with fruit, flowers, spices, oils, extracts, and natural or artificial flavors.
The caffeine content within Earl Grey is also similar to that of any other cup of black tea but less than a cup of coffee so whether you are trying to cut down on caffeine or if you are seeking a little afternoon pick me up, Earl Grey is a joy any time of day.
The bergamot in Earl Grey tea has been known to have a calming effect on people, as well as to boost a person’s mood. This is due to bergamot’s natural aromatherapy qualities. In this way Earl Grey is a good natural solution for people suffering from depression, stress and anxiety.
While Earl Grey tea was popularized by the English, it was not an English invention. Scented and flavored teas are uniquely Chinese. Early Chinese tea masters constantly experimented with ways to make their teas more exotic, not only to capture the attention of the reigning emperors of the time but also the business of worldwide trade merchants looking to return home with the unique flavors of the Far East. From fragrant jasmine flowers and wild rosebuds to bitter oranges and sweet lychee fruits, Chinese tea masters infused all kinds of fragrance and flavor into their teas during processing to create distinctive and highly drinkable beverages.
The Earl Grey blend, or “Earl Grey’s Mixture”, is assumed to have been named after Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, British Prime Minister in the 1830s. He reputedly received a gift, probably a diplomatic perquisite,
of tea flavoured with bergamot oil as a result of his ending the monopoly held by the East India Company on trade between Britain and China. A “Grey’s Tea” is known from the 1850s, but the first known published
references to an “Earl Grey” tea are advertisements by Charlton & Co. of Jermyn Street in London in the 1880s.
According to one legend, a grateful Chinese mandarin whose son was rescued from drowning by one of Lord Grey’s men first presented the blend to the Earl in 1803. The tale appears to be apocryphal, as Lord Grey never set foot in China and the use of bergamot oil to scent tea was then unknown in China. However, this tale is subsequently told (and slightly corrected) on the Twinings website, as “having been presented by an envoy on his return from China”.
According to the Grey family, the tea was specially blended by a Chinese mandarin for Lord Grey, to suit the water at Howick Hall, the family seat in Northumberland, using bergamot in particular to offset the preponderance of lime in the local water. Lady Grey used it to entertain in London as a political hostess, and it proved so popular that she was asked if it could be sold to others, which is how Twinings came to market it as a brand.
Jacksons of Piccadilly claim they originated Earl Grey’s Tea, Lord Grey having given the recipe to George Charlton, partner at Robert Jackson & Co., in 1830. According to Jacksons, the original recipe has been in constant production and has never left their hands. Theirs has been based on Chinese black tea since the beginning.
Records from the 19th century suggest that a tea merchant named William Grey created Earl Grey tea. William Grey advertised his “celebrated Grey’s mixture” in publications from the time, and may have popularized the blend.
In 2012 researchers at the Oxford English Dictionary found the earliest reference to Earl Grey, referring to a bergamot-flavoured tea from 1824 that seemed to have been used to enhance the taste of low-quality teas.
Lady Gray is an Earl Grey blend that is said to be more subtle and more floral than a traditional Earl Grey, but most manufacturers marketing this blend have different approaches.
The French add their beloved lavender to Earl Grey for a distinctively Parisian version.
Earl Green is blended using green tea instead of black.
Rooibos Earl Grey features the South African red rooibos herb, typically marketed as red tea, flavored with bergamot. Earl Grey tea lovers looking for caffeine-free options gravitate toward this blend.
The English are fans of flavored teas and blended Chinese Lapsang Souchong black tea with Earl Grey for a smoky version.