I have to admit it: I’m not a big Earl Grey tea fan. Although it is one of the most popular blends in the world, I’ve never really warmed up to it. I do have some good memories of it sprinkled through my tea-drinking years – I particularly remember a friend at a job 15+ years ago with whom I used to share a cup of Earl Grey tea and shortbread cookies while taking a break from a stressful work day. Overall, though, Earl Grey has not been one of my favorites.
However, my cousin has always loved this blend, and so a few months ago on a visit to Dartealing Lounge in San Francisco, I shared a pot of their Parisian Earl Grey with her and another friend. This pot of tea opened my eyes – and my palate! – to Earl Grey. They have added some “notes of vanilla” to the traditional bergamot flavor, and I love the combination. Adding the vanilla gives the tea a smooth, rich, almost creamy flavor that is relaxing and decadent. When I drink it, I can imagine myself sitting in a Parisian café, quietly sipping my tea on a spring afternoon. I can feel the beautiful light of Paris washing over me, suddenly making a dull day radiant. The tea seems to capture the changeable qualities of Paris in a cup, and gives old Earl Grey a decidedly continental air.
Mariage Frères, in the aforementioned city of Paris, has a lovely Earl Grey Provence, which blends “the flavors of Provence” with the bergamot of Earl Grey. The predominant note is lavender, which may not sound like something you’d find in a tea, but pairs perfectly with the slightly spicy, tart notes of bergamot. I brought this tea back from Paris for my cousin the last time I was there, and I’m glad to say she loved it! I’ve had a few cups of it as well, and it lets me imagine I’m on a relaxing trip in the South of France. I can see a lovely terrace, bright sunlight, and fields of wildflowers perfuming the air. In this case, my images are conjured up from paintings and films as I really have no idea of the smells and tastes of the region. This tea, however, conjures them up so powerfully, I feel like I’ve been there.
Those are just a couple of the journeys I’ve been on while enjoying a cup of tea. I never thought that Earl Grey would have such a powerful influence on my tea-drinking life, but with the imaginative blends that tea makers are creating, I can see going on a few more journeys with the Earl along for the ride!