Many people find the unique flavor of Earl Grey tea to be their favorite; smoky and fragrant with hints of citrus. Although considered a specific a type or variety of tea, most any black tea with bergamot flavor added is considered an Earl Grey tea.
Mostly taken black with perhaps a slice of lemon, this brew is one of the most popular of all the flavored teas in the world.
Origin of Earl Grey
The story of how this tea began is shrouded in mystery and contradiction. The popular myth is that Earl Charles Grey, the prime minister of Britain in 1830, was given the recipe from a mandarin gentleman he met while touring China.
Versions of the legend suppose that he saved the life of his new mandarin friend, and the tea was a special gift of gratitude.
As the story goes, Earl Charles Grey was then requested that his long-time tea supplier in London recreate the tea for him. Then, the tasty brew grew in demand, became fashionable, and ultimately spread globally.
Yet, some say that Earl Charles Grey never visited China so the true origin of this popular tea is still a mystery.
What is Bergamot
The bergamot used to flavor tea comes from a tree that is grown in the south of Italy. A citrus fruit, somewhat like lemon, orange and grapefruit mixed together, the scent is often likened to orange blossom.
The oil of the fruit is added to perfume, including one of the original Eau de Colognes from Germany. It is sometimes called The Prince's Pear although it is not edible. Note: There is also an herb called bergamot with completely different properties.
In the winter months before it ripens, the fruit harvest is picked by hand. Specially made cold-presses are used to extract the bergamot essence, which is then stored for at least a year.
Bergamot is used in aromatherapy to treat depression, and also has anti-microbial effects that can strengthen the resistance of the body to colds and illnesses.
The story of Lady Grey tea, which features a more subtle, fruity flavor compared to Earl Grey, is surrounded by folklore. Some believe it was created in Victorian times to reduce "improper impulses" in women that happened when they drank Earl Grey tea.
As the story goes, the addition of citrus fruit helped calm these unacceptable behaviors in women. So, orange and lemon extracts were blended with the tea to quell female "urges."
Yet, tea aficionados note that Lady Grey has enjoyed a far more recent product introduction. It was rolled out in 1994 by a major tea company, based in Britain, that also trademarked the name. The company blended the citrus flavors to accommodate palates and boost sales in the Norwegian and British tea markets. Since that time, sales of the blend have expanded around the world.
Information for this article provided by Corinne Waldon of The Tea Spot and Marianne Ibbotson.