Earl Grey is one of the most recognized flavored teas in the world. This quintessentially British tea is typically a black tea base flavored with oil from the rind of bergamot orange, a citrus fruit with the appearance and flavor somewhere between an orange and a lemon with a little grapefruit and lime thrown in. Lady Grey tea, named for Mary Elizabeth Grey, the wife of the famous Earl Charles Grey for whom the original blend was created, generally contains rather lighter bergamot flavouring and the additional presence of cornflower, lemon and Seville orange. The full make up of the tea blend of Lady Grey varies slightly depending on the maker, and different varieties may contain lavender in place of Seville orange, or different proportions of the component flavours and aromas within the blend.
Earl Grey is one of the most recognized flavored teas in the world. This quintessentially British tea is typically a black tea base flavored with oil from the rind of bergamot orange, a citrus fruit with the appearance and flavor somewhere between an orange and a lemon with a little grapefruit and lime thrown in. Today’s cultivar of the bergamot orange is believed to be a hybrid of the bitter Seville orange native to the Mediterranean and a sweet lime/lemon native to Southeast Asia.
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.
One history of the origins of Earl Grey explains that a Chinese mandarin tea master blended the first Earl Grey tea as a gift for Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl of Grey and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1830 to 1834. According to the Grey family, the tea master used bergamot as a flavoring to offset the lime flavor in the well water on Earl Grey’s estate, Howick Hall, near Newcastle, England. Earl Grey’s wife, Lady Grey, loved the tea so much that she entertained with it exclusively. It proved so popular with London society, she asked tea merchants in London to recreate it. Exactly which English tea merchant marketed the first Earl Grey tea blend is somewhat of a debate in the world of tea. But one thing is for sure: While the 2nd Earl of Grey abolished slavery and reformed child labor laws in England during his political leadership, he will be most famously remembered for the beloved tea he helped introduce to the world.
HOW EARL GREY IS MADE
A tea is flavored or scented during manufacturing toward the end of the processing, usually once the tea leaves have dried. One way teas are flavored is by blending the finished tea with flowers, herbs and spices so that the blended ingredients are visually appealing and lightly infuse the tea leaves with their aroma and flavor. Another way tea is flavored is by spraying or coated the finished tea with extracts, essential oils or flavoring agents during or after the drying process. This adds much a much stronger flavor to the tea and uses fewer ingredients. The flavoring-to-tea ratio is completely up to the tea manufacturer, and the flavors that come through to a brewed cup of flavored tea will vary by brand.
Earl Grey is most widely defined as a black tea that has been flavored with the oil of bergamot.
People who find the bergamot aroma of Earl Grey rather heady and overwhelming often take to Lady Grey’s lighter, more subtle flavouring mix as an alternative.
Twinings Lady Grey
Twinings Earl Grey
Bergamot (a citrus fruit) flavouring