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What is Earl Grey Tea?

Bergamot oil is to black tea what peanut butter is to jelly - what Ross is to Rachel! 🦞

tea with citrus

Even though Earl Grey is one of the most popular teas in the Western world, not much is commonly known about it. Let's fix that, shall we?

What we know for sure

Traditionally made with black tea, Earl Grey is bold and strong. It gets its unique flavour from bergamot oil. The bergamot orange is a citrus fruit grown in the Mediterranean.

The stories and legends

One story goes that Earl Charles Grey (Prime Minister of England from 1830-1834, who abolished slavery) saved the son of a Chinese tea blender from drowning. To show his appreciation, the blender passed on his recipe for a black tea flavoured with bergamot oil. There is no record of Grey having travelled to China, however.

The next theory is that this blend of tea was named after Charles Grey because he ended the trade monopoly held by the East India Company on trade between China and Britain. This could be true, but according to the Grey family the tea was blended for them to offset the flavour of lime the water at their ancestral home, Howick Hall.

Jackson’s of Picadilly (a tea company now owned by Twinings), has consistently claimed that they originated Earl Grey tea after receiving the recipe from Lord Grey in 1830. The tricky bit here is that researchers at the Oxford English Dictionary say the first reference to Earl Grey tea was in 1824 when bergamot was used to enhance the flavour of low quality tea leaves.

Are you ready for a completely unrelated story? There are also records of a 19th century tea merchant by the name of William Grey who created a tea called “Earl Grey.” It’s unclear if his blend was the bergamot version we know of today.

It's a gosh-darn mystery!

In Modern times, Earl Grey has reached cultural ubiquity.

In addition to being one of the most popular teas in the world (behind Darjeeling, English Breakfast, and Chai), It’s used to flavour cakes, chocolate, and savoury sauces by steeping a strong concentrate, or infusing the leaves in butter, cream or stocks. The much beloved London Fog latté is a combination of Earl Grey, steamed milk and vanilla syrup.

It’s been blended and re-blended into so many different combinations, by so many different tea merchants. Some of these teas are very well known in their own right; Lady Grey, Russian Earl Grey, and Earl Grey Crème stand out. But Earl Grey’s bergamot flavour has made it’s way to green, white and rooibos leaves - and just look at what we’ve done with Earl Grey here at The Valley Alchemist Tea Co. by heading over to our Black Tea collection!

If we've learned anything from Star Trek, it’s that “Earl Grey - hot” is going to be with us well into the future. 

We hope now that your brain is full of knowledge about our favourite tea, you'll enjoy sipping Earl Grey even more.

Fine art. Modern history. Totally delicious! 

💙  Steep well. 

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