Earl Grey: Fact and Fiction

image courtesy of Rachel McGuffin (www.rachelmcguffin.com)

Will the real Earl Grey please stand up?

Inarguably one of the world’s most famous teas, Earl Grey is a classic that shows no signs of losing favor with tea drinkers. Even though it is so well known, there are still a lot of misconceptions around what it is and how it came to be.

Classic Earl Grey is black tea that has been scented or flavored with bergamot, a citrus fruit native to southern Italy. Described as having a flavor somewhere between sweet lime and bitter orange, bergamot is distinct and exotic.


Bergamot fruit

More recently, tea blenders have been playing around with Earl Grey by adding other ingredients and changing the base tea. My favorite is Earl Grey de la Creme, which adds a hint of vanilla, giving a rounder, softer taste. My second favorite is Earl Green, which uses oolong as a base rather than black tea. This makes the tea more gentle and gives it floral notes that I adore. Then there is Earl Grey Lavender, which is bold and lush. Other less common variations are French Earl Grey with rose petals, and Russian Earl Grey with citrus peels or lemongrass.

How Earl Grey got its Name

There are a few stories about how this beloved tea got its name. Probably the most famous one is that it was a gift from a grateful Chinese Mandarin to Lord Grey, who rescued the Mandarin’s son from drowning in 1803.

Another legend has it that the Chinese Mandarin blended the tea for Lord Grey’s Northumberland estate to offset the flavor of lime that was in the local water. His wife, Lady Grey, also used this tea to entertain her guests which is why it is sometimes called Lady Grey tea.

Or, it was named after Charles Grey, the British Prime Minister of the 1830’s who received it as a diplomatic gift.

No matter which story you favor, Earl Grey is an essential part of tea history.

How to Drink Earl Grey

Earl Grey can hold its own when brewed straight, but it also pairs well with other teas and additions.

He gets along well with Masala Chai for a bold cup that is both spicy and fruity. If you like orange spice teas, give this combo a try.

For something more decadent, there’s the London Fog. Use classic Earl Grey, a little sugar and milk, and a shot of vanilla.

No matter how you prepare it, though, Earl Grey is soon to be in your regular rotation of teas if he isn’t already.

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