The History of Earl Grey

The History of Earl Grey

Earl Grey tea is one of the most recognized and widely drunk tea blends in the world. Its distinct flavor comes from the addition of oil extracted from the rind of the bergamot orange, a fragrant citrus fruit.

Date:

February 12, 2024

Author:

Joshua Kaiser

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Earl Grey tea is one of the most recognized and widely drunk tea blends in the world. Its distinct flavor comes from the addition of oil extracted from the rind of the bergamot orange, a fragrant citrus fruit.

The blend is named after Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl Grey, and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1830 to 1834. The story about how the tea came to bear his name is an interesting one. 

As the legend goes, during his tenure as Prime Minister, Earl Grey received a gift of tea flavored with bergamot oil from a grateful Chinese mandarin. The gift was purportedly in gratitude for saving his son from drowning. This story, however, lacks historical evidence and is more of a marketing narrative.  In reality, the blend was most likely named after Earl Grey as he would have been a well-known figure at the time when tea merchants were looking to sell more exotic blends. The use of bergamot was probably a way to imitate the more expensive types of Chinese tea, and the name was likely used to give it a more upper-class appeal.

Earl Grey tea became highly popular in the 19th century, especially in the upper-class circles of English society. It was made famous by the London tea merchant, Twinings, who has been selling Earl Grey tea since the early 19th century and still sells it today.
Over time, the Earl Grey blend has evolved and there are now many variations including Lady Grey (a blend with additional citrus peel and other flavorings), and others with added rose petals, lavender, or cornflowers. Despite these variations, the traditional blend of black tea and bergamot oil remains the most popular.

Earl Grey Meets Coffee House Latte Culture: The London Fog tea latte, also known as an Earl Grey tea latte, is said to have originated in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, around the mid-1990s. It was created when a pregnant customer requested a caffeine-reduced alternative to coffee at a local coffee shop. The shopkeeper, looking for a solution, experimented with Earl Grey tea, steamed milk, and vanilla syrup, resulting in the creation of this delightful beverage. Since then, it has gained popularity and can now be found in various cafes and coffee shops worldwide. The key ingredient for Earl grey is a rare variety of orange citrus with a perfumed and complex aromatic profile.

Bergamot essential oil has been used for centuries due to its distinct flavor and aroma. Extracted from the peel of the bergamot orange, a small citrus fruit that is a cross between a sour orange and a fragrant lemon variety or possibly a grapefruit, it is a key ingredient in foods, beverages, and cosmetics. In Italy, where the majority of the world's bergamot oranges are grown, the oil was traditionally used in Italian folk medicine and in culinary practices. It was used to flavor a variety of dishes and baked goods, but most notably, it was used in the production of Italian liqueurs and Amari (bitter herbal liquors).  One of the most famous of these is Bergamotto, a sweet liqueur made from bergamot oranges native to the Calabria region. Another well-known Italian liqueur that features bergamot as a prominent flavor is Galliano. The oil is also used in other beverages including Earl Grey tea, lending a unique citrusy flavor to balance the robustness of the black tea. 

In the realm of fragrances, bergamot essential oil is a top note in the majority of all fine fragrances produced today. The oil is valued for its ability to blend with other scents to form a bouquet that is both pleasing to the nose and stable over time. Its fresh, citrusy, and slightly floral aroma makes it a perfect ingredient for perfumes and colognes.

In addition to its culinary and cosmetic uses, bergamot oil also has a long history of use in aromatherapy for its calming effects. It is believed to help reduce anxiety and stress, promote relaxation, and improve mood.

Rishi Tea’s R&D team developed a pressed organic juice with our essential oil producer in Calabria that we use in our London Fog micro- brewed Earl grey tea liquid concentrate. 

Pressed bergamot juice is a popular, bittersweet and aromatic digestive supplement in Europe and the UK. Bergamot is gaining attention as a super fruit and digestive gut-health supporter. Bergamot juice, itself is known for digestion and supporting healthy cholesterol levels. 

Whether in food, drinks, perfumes, or aromatherapy, bergamot adds a unique and desirable element for healthy foods and beverages, beauty care and overall wellness that continues to be appreciated across the globe for its one of a kind aroma and amazing flavor contributions.