Please accept my apologies for the pun. It was irresistible.
I was exposed to Earl Grey tea at about age 10 by a grandmother who had received a tea sampler gift box. Although at that time I preferred jasmine tea, as a college student, I fell in love with aromatic Earl Grey. Sadly, my doctor told me soon thereafter that I had to cut out caffeine, but I’d still sneak a box of decaf now and then.
Bergamot is a round, rather ugly, greenish-yellow citrus fruit that originated in tropical Asia, and got its name when brought to Bergamo, Italy in the 15th century. It is now grown in Calabria, Italy as well as in California, Georgia, Florida, the Caribbean, and parts of South America. The oil is extracted from the rind just before the fruit ripens.
Historically, the oil was used to treat malaria, intestinal worms, and fevers. Today, it is used in many fragrances and candies (principally halva) as well as in tea. It is also used in aromatherapy to reduce stress, depression, anxiety, and insomnia and is effective as an antiseptic, a mouth cleaner, and a treatment for colds and flus.
So, where did the name “Earl Grey” come from? Yes, there was an Earl Grey. In fact, it was Charles Grey, a second earl, who introduced the bergamot-laced tea to England upon receiving some as a gift. A well-educated man, he recognized and enjoyed the finer things in life, in abundance.
Legend surrounds the original gift to Earl Grey, but there is no doubt of the tea’s popularity. It is now made not only from black tea, but also green, white, and oolong teas, not to mention tisanes such as rooibos. “Lady Grey” tea adds lemon and Seville orange flavors. There is also a concoction called “French Earl Grey” that incorporates rose petals.
If you are fighting a cold or flu or feel anxious or depressed, a cup of Earl Grey may be just what you need.
A word to the wise: As with all good things, moderation is important. Please don’t try to save a few bucks by making your own version of Earl Grey; the experts use tiny amounts of bergamot oil to produce truly ambrosial blends. If you ingest too much of the oil, it can impede your ability to absorb potassium, causing cramps, and can also cause skin disorders, not to mention the “grapefruit effect” in combination with certain prescription medications. However, you’d have to drink about a gallon of Earl Grey a day to experience the down side, so a cup or two a day will give you the benefits without the risks.
Enjoy some relaxing Grey today! Signing off, and brewing my own cup of decaf…