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Earl Grey Tea Defined

Earl Grey
Charles, 2nd Earl Grey

The UK’s most popular tea blend.

Earl Grey tea defined: it is a scented tea, a blend of black tea and oil of bergamot, extracted from the thick, oil-rich peel of an Italian citrus fruit, grown mainly in Calabria. It is thought to be to be a 17th century cross between sweet lemon and bitter, Seville type, orange. Bergamot is commonly used in perfumery and aromatherapy.

The Key: Oil of Bergamot

Many mass-market Earl Grey teas today contain nature-identical oil of bergamot for reasons of economy and to give them a longer shelf-life. Natural oil of bergamot has a more rounded, fresh flavour profile and more complexity. Synthetic oil is more one-dimensional. It is important that the right amount of bergamot is included. If it is excessive the tea will be soapy, if too little is used it will be unnoticeable.

The Tea

The tea used in Earl Grey blend can be either a pure tea such as China Black or Ceylon or it can be a traditional blend such as ours, containing China Keemun and Darjeeling. Ones based on Ceylon have more tannins and body so can be taken with milk. Sometimes a little lapsang souchong tea is added which gives slight smokiness. Those blends based on China and Darjeeling teas are more traditional and should be drunk without milk. Lemon is best avoided. Rarely, Earl Grey tea can be based upon green tea and we produce a popular Green Earl Grey using pure China green tea. This is difficult to blend as both the tea and the bergamot have natural astringency. It is important that Earl Grey has a good taste of tea and that it is not ‘thin’ and dominated by the bergamot. For this reason sufficient time should be given to infuse the tea properly, especially so where loose tea is used but this will give the best all-round flavour compared to quick-brewing tea bags.

The Earl

The blend is named after Charles 2nd Earl Grey, my four times great uncle. He was not professionally linked to tea in any way but was the British Prime Minister between 1830 and 1834. He is famous for passing the Great Reform Bill. He had the blend named after and presented to him by a Chinese envoy but beyond this there is little accurate information to confirm who gave it to him and for what reason. However, the earliest reference to the tea is to ‘Grey Mixture’ sold by Charlton and Co. of London in 1867 and as ‘Earl Grey Mixture’ in 1884. There are several anomalies in the story: one that Earl Grey saved the life of a Mandarin – he never set foot in China, and of more relevance to the tea itself, even an original blend could not contain any Darjeeling tea as none was grown in India at that time! One thing we do know is that Earl Grey was sufficiently non-commercially minded that neither he nor any of his descendants have ever made any money out of his tea! This explains why there are now so many competing brands of this admittedly attractive blend on the market today.

As an afternoon beverage Earl Grey tea blend is the quintessential tea. It should be have a citrus character yet be balanced, fresh tasting, bright and aromatic. As refreshing tea it is ideal with all those nice sweet things we like to indulge in when having a traditional English tea.

The Independent of 3.3.15 reported on claims that Earl Grey tea blend benefits the cardio-vascular system by reducing cholesterol due to the presence hydroxy methyl glutaryl flavonones enzymes in bergamot. So its appeal seams to show no bounds now that the doctors are behind it too!

See our Earl Grey tea blend and Earl Grey Green tea.

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