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What is Earl Grey Tea?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Earl Grey tea is a blend of tea which is heavily flavored with bergamot. The distinctive flavor of bergamot infuses the finished tea, creating a classic light and refreshing flavor. Many consumers think of Earl Grey tea as the quintessential English tea, and it is indeed often served at tea and other social events in Britain. Numerous companies make blends of Earl Grey which are available in both bagged and looseleaf form.

The tea is named after the Second Earl Grey, who served as Prime Minister in the 1830s. According to legend, the Earl received the tea as a diplomatic gift, supposedly in thanks for saving someone's life. The tea grew to be a popular offering in the Earl's private home, and he brought the blend to his tea merchant, Twinings in the Strand, asking them to replicate it. Twinings released the first official Earl Grey tea and it quickly became a favorite.

Many people are under the mistaken impression that Earl Grey is a type of tea. In fact, all black teas come from the Camellia sinensis plant. The leaves of the plant are harvested at different times and handled in different ways to produce everything from white tea to black tea, and Earl Grey traditionally blends a mix of Indian and Sri Lankan teas. Some producers also add a hint of lapsang souchong to give Earl Grey tea a slightly smoky, rich flavor.

Since bergamot is a strong flavoring, it can cover up for tea of a lesser quality. For that reason, people who are concerned about the grade of their tea should read packaging carefully. Looseleaf tea tends to be of better quality, while some bagged teas can be quite unpleasant. If the flavor of Earl Grey tea is not quite to taste, some consumers enjoy Lady Grey, a variant which adds Seville orange and lemon to the blend, altering the flavor rather dramatically.

When brewing black tea, it is important to only steep it for three to five minutes. Steeping the tea for a longer period of time will result in a bitter cup of tea, as the tannins are leached from the leaves. If you desire stronger tea, use more tea leaves per cup of water. You may also find that the quality of your tea improves when you warm the teapot or cup you are brewing in with a quick swirl of boiling water before brewing.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By panda2006 — On Jan 25, 2011

I find many rands of Earl Grey tea bags can be a pretty good quality, though I suppose I am not that picky. Tea bags also mean that you can offer both caffeinated and decaffeinated Earl Grey tea to your guests without a lot of extra effort; they also often come in varieties that are a bit different, like extra spices or a hint of orange.

By recapitulate — On Jan 22, 2011

I knew that Twinings Earl Grey tea was traditional, though it is interesting to know they were the very first. I suppose other brands adopted the name because this was before copyright laws; in these days, it'd be unlikely that several companies could mimic a product so identically.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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