Earl Grey may be my favorite flavored tea ever. You either love it or hate it. My husband can’t stand Earl Grey. It’s like chai in that way. There seems to be no neutral ground.
Many here probably know the story of the bergamot-flavored tea being associated with the second Earl Grey, but Foods of England uncovered a reference to the use of bergamot as a flavoring for tea dating from as early as 1824. (from OED Appeals) Whatever its date of origin, it has become a classic, and one of the most popular flavored teas in the world.
The best Earl Grey I ever tasted was years ago from a Sri Lankan tea estate and wholesale distributor. We purchased the tea until they grew to the point where they said there was not enough demand for loose leaf to continue to sell as such. Thereafter, it sold it in bags only. We don’t do bags, so we started looking again. We now carry the second best Earl Grey we’ve ever tasted: a double bergamot that is extremely bold and yet sublimely smooth, and is delicious straight or with milk and sugar. The fragrance is truly intoxicating.
Of course, bergamot is what makes Earl Grey so special and the best bergamot is from a particular part of Italy, Calabria. Bergamot is a member of the citrus family; the fruit is not eaten, but the essential oil is used to flavor tea, tobacco, and to give fragrance to perfumes and colognes. Bergamot is also used in skin lotions, but can cause photosensitivity. The citrusy fruit has a very high concentration of polyphenols.
There are variations of Earl Grey, the best known being Lady Grey, a registered trademark for Twinings. Lady Grey has less bergamot oil – supplemented by orange and lemon essential oils – and is enjoyed by those who like their Earl a bit milder/gentler. It was supposedly named in honor of Earl Grey’s wife. I’ve had Earl Grey Vanilla and love Earl Grey with real lavender – especially iced – which is very refreshing when brewed lightly to bring out more lavender and less bergamot, lightly sweetened.
However you enjoy your Earl, you are among many thousands who make it a regular part of their tea repertoire, including Patrick Stewart in his well-known role as Captain Jean Luc-Picard of Star Trek fame. All this talk of Earl Grey is making me thirsty. I like it best as a breakfast tea: strong; black; no milk or sugar; savored slowly in preparation to facing a busy day. Join me?