Earl Grey tea is a flavored tea and one of the world’s most recognized teas. The tea is typically a black tea flavored with oil from the outside rind of the bergamot orange, native to the Mediterranean. This unique fruit resembles a combination of orange and lemon with some lime or grapefruit added into the mixture. However, Earl Grey tea can also be produced from white, green, or oolong tea, and scented with fruit, flowers, oils, spices, or other flavors.
History of Earl Grey Tea
Even though Earl Grey tea was first popularized by the English, scented and flavored teas originated in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). At that time, tea growers would compress fresh tea leaves to make a concentrated tea and then scent the tea by blending in herbs to give it a stronger aroma.
In the early Song Dynasty (960-1279), flowers and spices were added. Later, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), jasmine and osmanthus teas were blended to create the tea.
The first Earl Grey tea was blended by a Chinese mandarin tea master as a gift for British Prime Minister Earl Charles Grey in the early 1830s. The tea master used bergamot flavoring to offset the lime flavor of the well water on Earl Grey’s English estate. Lady Grey, the Earl’s wife, loved the tea so much that she provided it exclusively to entertain guests. The tea became so popular that London tea merchants were asked to recreate it and soon it became quite popular nationwide.
Types of Earl Grey Tea
Today, there are many different types of Earl Grey tea.
The original was most likely made from Lapsang souchong tea leaves grown in the Wuyi region of China’s Fujian Province. The tea leaves are traditionally smoke-dried over fires using pine wood so that the tea takes on a distinctive smoky pine flavor.
Today, because of the increasing demand for this particular variety of black tea and the resulting higher prices, Earl Grey tea can be made from any black tea that is grown nearly anywhere in the world. The name itself is not a registered trademark, so numerous tea companies have produced their own variations of the tea over the years.
Types of Black Tea Added
The most common source of Earl Grey tea today is from Ceylon or a blending of Ceylon teas with Assam tea. However, today’s market demand for Earl Grey tea has become so strong, that Earl Grey teas are made from many different countries around the world. The tea can now come from China, India, or even Africa.
Earl Grey tea can come from a single estate or from a blend of different black teas from many countries. Many connoisseurs claim that the best qualities of Earl Grey teas are produced in Ceylon, Darjeeling, or Assam. However, no matter where the tea originates, the actual quality of the brew rests with the quality of the original tea leaves.
The tea can have a sweet or floral flavor or it can be rich and malty. It all depends on the characteristics of the location where it’s grown, the climate, geography, and culture of the tea plant and how it’s processed.
The flavoring or scenting of Earl Grey tea is done toward the end of the manufacturing process, usually when the tea leaves have dried. In one method, the tea is flavored by blending the finished tea with herbs, spices, and sometimes even flowers. The blended ingredients lightly infuse their flavor and aroma into the tea leaves and to make them more visually appealing.
Another way to flavor tea is to coat or spray the finished tea with essential flavoring agents, oils, or extracts after the drying process. This imparts a stronger flavor to the tea while using fewer ingredients. The ratio of flavoring to tea is up to the tea manufacturer and can vary greatly. The flavors that come through to the brewed cup of tea will then be quite varied from one brand to another.
Only the rind from bergamot oranges is used to extract the essential oils that give Earl Grey tea its special aroma and flavor and aroma. Unlike oranges that usually have a sweet taste; bergamot oranges have a much more sour taste that most people dislike.
Bergamot oranges are popular with manufacturers because of their consistent sharp and intense flavor. Also, because bergamot oil contains no actual citrus, it’s safe to consume for people with citrus allergies.
How Much Bergamot?
The tea master usually defines how much bergamot oil to add to the mix to produce Earl Grey tea. He might decide to use just a subtle amount of bergamot flavoring so that the delicate flavor of the original tea leaves isn’t covered up. Or, he might decide to give the sharp, black tea a large amount of bergamot to add to the bold and distinct flavor profile of the original tea leaves.
Caffeine Content in Earl Grey Tea
As with all black teas, Earl Grey tea contains caffeine. The caffeine content in Earl Grey tea will vary from one type to another. In general, regular Earl Grey tea contains approximately 55 to 90 milligrams of caffeine per cup. Decaffeinated Earl Grey tea will normally contain between 2 to 10 milligrams of caffeine for each cup.
Health Benefits of Earl Grey Tea
Any good quality Earl Grey tea will provide health benefits. In addition to being enjoyed as a fermented black tea, the tea can play an important role in helping to improve the balance of the healthy gut bacteria in your body. The molecules of Earl Grey tea actually remain longer in your gut than many of today’s prebiotics.
Boost Your Metabolism
Studies show the guts of drinkers of black tea contain a higher level of the Pseudobutrivibrio bacteria, a compound which is beneficial in boosting your metabolism. It’s possible that this could explain why in some studies, black tea has been shown to be just as effective as green tea in helping people to lose weight.
Bergamot Oil for Cleansing
The bergamot oil in Earl Grey tea is also healthy for your system. Bergamot oil is full of antioxidants that protect your system against damage from harmful free radicals.
Another recent discovery about bergamot oil is that it contains D-Limonene, a substance that stimulates the body’s autophagy processes. Autophagy is the way body’s your cells clean and recycle and clean themselves so the body remains healthy and continues to function optimally. The more stimulation of autophagy in the body, the healthier your cells will be.
If you decided to add some cinnamon and coconut oil to your Earl Grey tea, these substances also stimulate autophagy. By combining these additives along with the bergamot oil in the tea, you’ll boost your cell health even more.
A Mood and Brain Booster
Most of today’s high-quality teas contain a unique amino acid known as L-theanine. This compound is helpful in calming and focusing the mind and is a perfect antidote to the common early afternoon dip in concentration that many people often experience. So, Earl Grey tea gives you a caffeine boost and helps your body stay calm and focus the mind, without experiencing jitters or an energy crash that you might get from coffee.
Your daily cup of Earl Grey black tea also brings you an additional benefit. Black teas contain methylxanthine, a compound that’s thought to increase your body’s ability to release mood-boosting serotonin. Serotonin is an important chemical and neurotransmitter in the human body. It helps to regulate mood, appetite, and digestion. It also is a memory enhancer, aids in sexual desire and function, and helps combat depression.
Side Effects of Earl Grey Tea
Most side effects of drinking Earl Grey tea are attributed to its caffeine content. These can include restlessness, heart palpitations, muscle tremors, and an inability to sleep. If you are very sensitive to the effects of caffeine, you might feel these effects even after a small sip so it would be best to avoid the tea or choose the decaffeinated variety instead. Drinking Earl Grey tea is also not advised if you are pregnant as it can affect your or your baby’s health.
Bergamot oil can also have some side effects. Because the compound contains a toxin called bergapten, it can affect the body’s potassium absorption in some individuals. The oil can also make some people more susceptible to sunburn and cause increased photosensitivity.
How to Make Earl Grey Tea
There are several different ways of preparing Earl Grey tea.
- When you are using loose leaf tea, always measure using a scale to be sure you use the proper amount. Of course, if you’re using tea bags instead of loose leaf tea, you should skip this step.
- If the tea you plan to serve needs to be stronger, use a few extra leaves (or use two tea bags instead of using one). You can push the loose tea leaves into a tea filter or a few empty tea bags so that later you won’t need to strain the finished tea.
- Using a clean kettle or pot, fill the container with cold, fresh water from your cold water tap. Never use water from the hot water tap or water heated beforehand. Mineral deposits might have accumulated in the pipes to affect the tea’s flavor.
- Set the container on the top of your stove with the temperature on the highest setting. Bring the water to a rolling boil and then turn off the heat so that the water cools down for a few seconds. It should reach a temperature just below the boiling point of about 98°C (208°F).
- Pour a bit of the water from the container into your teapot so that it is the proper temperature. Pour the tea into the teapot and all the tea to steep for 3 to 5 minutes. If you desire a stronger tea, allow it to steep a little longer. The longer the tea steeps, the stronger it will become.
- After the tea has steeped, remove the tea bags or strain the tea if you are using loose tea leaves. Allow the tea to cool before drinking. You can drink Grey tea either hot or you can add a few ice cubes and enjoy Earl Grey iced tea.
How Do You Flavor Earl Grey Tea?
Even though drinking Earl Grey tea black will allow you to enjoy the purest and strongest flavors of its tea leaves, many people enjoy drinking a sweeter tea by adding sugar or sweetener. To sweeten Earl Grey tea, add between 2 and 12 grams (0.071 to 0.42 oz.) of sugar or an equivalent amount of sweetener to the tea.
Adding lemon to Earl Grey tea is another option. By adding lemon, you add an additional citrus note to the tea’s flavor. Cut a lemon into four parts and then squirt the juice from one of the slices into your tea and stir. Use as much lemon juice as you like for additional citrus flavor.
If you would like to add some additional creaminess to your Earl Grey tea, add milk or cream. After the tea has steeped properly, stir in a small amount of milk or cream. This will add a creamier flavor to the tea and help to reduce the strength of the tea’s natural citrus and floral flavors.
Earl Grey Latte tea can be created by pouring 1/2 cup (120 ml) of milk into a saucepan and heating it to medium-high while stirring the milk constantly. Stirring the milk keeps it from boiling or burning. Continue stirring until the milk is warm or frothy. You can also use almond or coconut milk for additional sweetness or creaminess.
Once the milk heats up, pour it into your cup of tea after it’s completed steeping. Use a spoon to stir the tea so the milk dissolves completely into the tea. Never pour the milk into the tea before it has steeped as the milk can diminish the tea’s natural flavor.
Another option is to add 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) of vanilla extract after the tea steeps. This will add vanilla notes to the tea and add additional flavor. Be sure to always taste the tea whenever you add additional flavoring to suit your individual taste.
How to Choose Best Earl Grey Tea
Any black tea flavored with bergamot can be called Earl Grey tea. Most of the better teas will share a pleasing richness in flavor, astringent taste and a zip of citrus that comes from the bergamot flavoring. The tea is suitable for serving at almost any time of the day, from breakfast, with dessert, snacks or even along with spicy foods. The flavor profile of Earl Grey tea pairs especially with even with many curry dishes.
Regional varieties and many brand-specific blends of Earl Grey tea offer even more choices. In France, Earl Grey tea is often blended with lavender flowers. In the UK, the English usually prefer a smokier brew and will often use Lapsang Souchong tea from China as a base. The Earl Grey tea that you choose as your favorite can depend on what you happen to be serving it with, or simply the flavor you happen to be in the mood to enjoy.
In general, Mass-produced tea bags are not usually considered the best choice when deciding on the right tea to buy. Many mass-produced teas are made using tea dust, or “fannings”, which are considered the lowest grades of tea. These teas do not have the taste that makes Earl Grey tea so pleasant and admired.
If you prefer to have the convenience of tea bags, be sure to look for a premium, gourmet, or even organic blends. And be sure that the tea smells rich and fresh, and definitely does not have a dry or stale smell.
In addition to purchasing an Earl Grey tea with a strong fragrance, examine the Earl Grey tea leaves to make sure they have a slight shine or luster to them. Choose leaves that are completely intact, and be sure to pay attention to the color of the water when they brew.
When brewing black teas, the water should have a deep red or amber color after several minutes of steeping. Take a sip of the tea while it steeps to determine if it is strong enough for you. If the taste is weak or stale, purchase another variety.
With so many blends available, it will probably take you a bit of trial and error to find the Earl Grey tea you like best. Many blends made with Indian teas will have malt-flavored overtones, while the teas from China will be fruity, floral or even smoky. Once you’ve found your favorite, stock up the blend you like best so that you can enjoy it whenever you like.
How to Store Earl Grey Tea
There are several different factors that can affect the storage life of Earl Grey tea.
- Ideally, the tea should stay in a cool, dark location away from heat, moisture, and light that can degrade the tea.
- There’s no need to refrigerate Earl Grey tea. It should stay at room temperature between 60 and 80ºF (15 and 20ºC).
- Keep the tea in a tightly-sealed container as air can cause the tea to oxidize.
- Keep the tea away from any other elements that have pungent odors, like coffee, spices or any other similar elements.
The Uniqueness of Earl Grey Tea
Earl Grey tea is one of the world’s most favorite teas. The popular flavored tea, blended with bergamot oil, is truly loved for its unorthodox aroma and intriguing taste. There is also the story about the tea’s origin and how it became so widely accepted in British society. Enjoy Earl Grey tea soon and discover why this exquisite flavored black tea is so popular around the world.