The Earl Grey tea blend is fragrant, citrus-flavored tea blend made with the addition of bergamot oil. Bergamot oil comes from the rind of a bergamot orange and has a scent similar to a sweet light orange peel just with a floral note.
How it came about
Much like the English Breakfast, there is no recorded account of how this tea blend came about. But the version I really like (and believe to be the most plausible) dates back to the early 1800s. The story goes that Charles Grey, the second Earl Grey and then-British Prime Minister commissioned a Chinese gentleman (most likely a tea merchant) to create a tea blend that would suit the water at Howick Hall, Northumberland, which had a peculiarly high concentration of lime. The genius that he was, the Chinese gentleman chose bergamot oil – a perfumy, citrusy-sweet extract obtained from bergamot orange – to Chinese black tea (the mostly widely available variety of tea at the time); the scented blend would make a rather tasty version of water, speaking euphemistically.
Naysayers are of the opinion that the blend was created to mask the inferior quality of the Chinese tea back in the day. But, irrespective of the ‘who and why’, the blend’s faithful following stands in gratitude of the person who created it.
Tea lovers will know Earl Grey Tea as a bit tangy and zesty, best consumed without milk. The real tea aficionados will know that Earl Grey is a tea blend which has been flavored by adding the oil from the rind of bergamot orange, a fruit grown in Italy, France and southeast Asia.
The tea got its name from Charles Grey, who was an English aristocrat and a former Prime Minister of England. There are conflicting stories about why it was named after him, some claiming it was a gift from a Chinese Mandarin, while others state that it was a diplomatic perquisite.
While the tea was popularized by the English, it is said to have originated from China, as flavored and scented teas are uniquely Chinese. A popular version is that the blend of tea and bergamot was accidental, when the tea absorbed the flavor of the fruit while being exported from China. But the humble Earl Grey Tea has come a long way since then and there are various types of this classic tea blend.
Making of the Earl Grey
A tea is flavored or scented once the tea leaves have dried, which is usually at the end of the manufacturing process. It could either be by blending the finished tea with flowers, herbs and spices which allows the infusion to happen. Another way tea is flavored is by spraying or coating the finished tea with extracts, essential oils or flavoring agents during or after the tea leaves have dried. This adds a much stronger flavor to the tea, while using fewer ingredients.
The method used and the flavoring-to-tea ratio varies from one producer to another, so it really depends on the brand. But bear in mind that it is important to buy good quality Earl Grey Tea, as the flavour of cheap tea can easily be masked by the overpowering bergamot.
The Different Types of Earl Grey Tea
The Earl Grey tea is the earliest known flavored/scented tea to ever be brewed. The exact date of blending is still unknown, although tea flavored with bergamot oil was being sold in Britain by the 1820’s. Twinings is the tea company credited with making Earl Grey a widely popular drink.
Over the years, different variations of Earl Grey tea have found their way into the market. Some of these are:
Double Bergamot Earl Grey – Earl Grey tea flavored with double the normal amount of bergamot oil, for a more aromatic and citrusy flavour. This tea apparently goes well with scones and buttered toast is ideal for afternoon tea.
Lady Grey Tea – Named after Lady Mary Elizabeth Grey, the wife of Earl Charles Grey, this tea is flavored with Seville oranges or lavender, in addition to the bergamot. The two varieties are known as Citrus Lady Grey and Lavender Lady Grey respectively.
French Earl Grey – This variation is made by adding rose petals to the Earl Grey Tea. The resulting brew has a sweet aroma with a fruity and floral taste.
Russian Earl Grey – In addition to the black tea and the bergamot, the Russian variation contains citrus peels and some lemongrass.
Lapsang Souchang Earl Grey Tea – The Lapsang Souchang is a black tea produced in the Wuyi region of the Fujian province of China. The leaves of this tea are smoked over pinewood fire, giving the tea a unique flavor. Adding this to the Earl Grey blend creates a unique smoky and citrusy brew.
Roobios Earl Grey Tea – Roobios is a plant native to South Africa that has traditionally been used to make tisanes. On drying, the herb turns reddish-brown and is used to make ‘red bush tea’. Roobios is used to make decaffeinated Earl Grey Tea, which is purported to have many health benefits.
Can you find an Earl Grey version of your favorite tea?
Earl Grey Tea is constantly evolving to cater to the nuanced tastes of tea connoisseurs worldwide. There are now variations of this classic tea that blend the Earl Grey experience with other popular flavours, aromas and varieties. Teabox offers a wide range of Earl Grey Tea, with some based on your preferred everyday brew.
Green Earl Grey adds a classic fruity flavor to a healthy brew. Devotees of the chai can try the Earl Grey Chai, an Anglo-Indian blend that refreshes the mind, body and soul. Lemon is a popular additive to tea and the Muscat Earl Grey combines the Darjeeling muscatel tea with a lemon twist. One of the most popular varieties though is the Breakfast Earl Grey, which is the perfect brew to start your day with.
Find more on the Earl Grey right here,