Learn More about Earl Grey Tea
We all like a good mystery; whether it be through the books we read, the movies we watch, or even, and most surprisingly the teas we sip. Earl Grey Tea is perhaps the greatest mystery of them all. Its origins are nothing short of legendary, and it has since stood the test of time to become what is arguably known as the most popular flavoured black tea currently available on the market.
Famously scented with bergamot oil, which is derived from the fragrant citrus fruit of the same name Earl Grey Tea has. For well over a century it has been a beverage largely associated with English upper-class gentry. However, you do not need to be a Lord, a Count, or even an Earl to enjoy this flavoursome brew. Earl Grey is no longer just a tea for lavish halls and country homes; it is no longer brought in on silver trays to be poured into decorative chinaware.
Earl Grey is for everyone and has recently been subjected to a dramatic rise in sales within the global tea industry. Brimming with mouthwatering flavour and incredible health promoting properties. This tea is only expected to further increase in popularity as its true potential is uncovered. But why has Earl Grey’s perplexing history been so difficult to trace? And how, after all this time, has it yet again inspired a nation?
What is Earl Grey Tea?
To understand this brew is to understand the components that are used to create it. Like any other ‘tea’ (as opposed to herbal and fruit ‘tisanes’), traditional Earl Grey uses leaves from the Camellia Sinensis plant (or, ‘tea plant’). It is typically a Black Tea, meaning it has undergone a lengthier oxidation period compared to that of Green Tea.
Predominantly, the Black Teas used for the production of Earl Grey are Chinese. During its processing, and usually towards the end when the leaves have dried bergamot is added to this tea for an extra citrus punch. However, there is no one way to make Earl Grey Tea.
Some manufacturers will choose to flavour the black tea leaves with the actual rind of the bergamot orange, which can likewise offer visual appeal to the blend. Others, meanwhile, will instead use essential oils during or after the drying process. Whichever processing method is decided upon, the result is almost always the same, a deliciously flavoured black tea combining sweet, floral, and fruity flavours atop of a luxuriously malty base. Slightly astringent undertones may also be tasted in some blends of Earl Grey Tea, which may come from the steeped tea leaves during the processing.
What is Bergamot?
Perhaps most unsurprisingly, bergamot oil and bergamot rind are both sourced from the bergamot orange. Genetic research indicates that it is, in fact, a hybrid fruit of the lemon and the Seville orange!
It is grown on the Citrus Bergamia tree, and can be found flourishing in much of the Mediterranean, as well as some areas in Africa, Southeast Asia, even southern France. However, it is mostly cultivated in the Italian province of Calabria, which accounts for an estimated 80% of bergamot production! The Citrus bergamia tree blossoms in winter, bearing this unique and visually striking fruit.
Although some individuals may choose to eat the fruit straight off the tree, many more will opt to include it in countless culinary dishes. It is no secret that since the 19th Century, the bergamot orange has shared a tightly knit history with Earl Grey, in particular. Yet, it also has an equally fascinating and an altogether independent history related to its consumption, which pre-dates this beverage by many hundreds of years.
The name ‘bergamot’ is almost as mysterious as the tea it is included in. There are two stories to its origin. The first is that it was named in honour of the Italian town of Bergamo, where it is thought to have been first commercially produced. The second, meanwhile, is that it originates from the Turkish words “beg-armudi”, which can be translated to mean “the Prince’s pear”. If this was the case, then it was never truer when, in the Royal Courts of King Louis XIV, it was worn by French aristocrats as a wonderful scented perfume.
During the Second World War (1939-1945), Italian exports suffered due to Allied blockades (Italy was aligned with the Axis powers, which included Nazi Germany, and Imperialist Japan). This, in turn, enabled other countries to substitute the demand of bergamot with other citrus fruits. In South and Central America, including countries such as Brazil and Mexico, sweet limes were cultivated in vast quantities to fill the void of Italian bergamot production.
History of Earl Grey Tea
Before it was named after the British Earl and Prime Minister, many historians believe this tea was first created when fine oils from the Bergamot fruit were added to tea leaves in an attempt to preserve the produce during the difficult journeys overseas. It was thought that lengthy times at sea could result in tastes of mould and tar. Others argue that, although this tea was likely in existence prior to Earl Grey’s escapades, it was, in fact, created to imitate more expensive types of Chinese tea.
This enabled crafty traders to charge premium prices for their ‘inferior’ teas. Whichever tale is true (if either), this beverage had but a modest background prior to its glorious ascent under the influence of the 2nd Earl Grey’s well-established name. The question that persists the most, however, is why, in the first place, was this tea named after him?
The story of that is shrouded in great mystery, with a number of differing tales associated with this baffling rebranding. The most popular legend refers to a diplomatic trip made by Lord Grey to China at some time during his political career. It is said that either one of Lord Grey’s men, or Lord Grey himself - depending on the specific tale saved a Chinese Mandarin’s son from drowning in a nearby river. Overwhelmed with gratitude, the Mandarin gifted the Earl with black tea leaves scented with bergamot oil.
Upon his return to Great Britain, Charles Grey, who had since grown accustomed to the brew requested that more of the blend be made and sent to him from China. As charming and intriguing as this story is, there is likely next-to-no truth behind it. This is mostly because no known trip to China was ever made by Lord Grey at any time in his life! Consequently, the story remains unfounded.
Interestingly, many believe that, although this bergamot scented black tea was named in honour of Earl Grey, it was, in fact, his wife who favoured its unique, complex, and delectable taste. Lady Mary Elizabeth Grey (also known as Mary Ponsonby) was said to cater exclusively to Earl Grey Tea, offering it at her elaborate parties and at large family affairs. According to some - admittedly questionable records, Lady Grey loved this brew so much that she eventually asked tea merchants in London to recreate it. Of course, whether there is any truth to this story is, again like most of Earl Grey Tea’s curious history a question of great debate.
The first known reference to this brew as a ‘Grey’s Tea’ dates back to the 1850’s, but the first published record of an ‘Earl Grey’ tea is in advertisements printed by Charlton & Co in the 1880’s. Today, Earl Grey Tea is just as popular as it was during the 19th Century if not even more so.
It is now a beloved choice in homes and restaurants around the world. The global tea industry has since experimented with the flavours associated with Earl Grey Tea, and has incorporated it into many different Types of Tea, and even a number of herbal teas. Examples of this are our very own Rooibos Earl Grey Tea and Rooibos Earl Grey with Lemon Peel. These two blends are made from the Rooibos Tea, which grows in abundance across the Cederberg Region of South Africa.
Brief Biography of the 2nd Earl Grey
An Earl, a Prime Minister, and a refined English gentleman - Charles Grey (1764-1845) was generally accomplished throughout most of his working life. Born the son of General Sir Charles Grey of Fallodon, Northumberland - the 1st Earl Grey - Charles Grey Jr grew up notably, and most understandably, privileged.
He first entered politics in 1786, at the age of just 22, where he stood as a member of Parliament for the Northumberland constituency. In 1808, however, at the passing of his uncle, Sir Henry Grey of Howick - Charles Grey inherited Howick Hall, and would reside there for the rest of his life.
His first child came from a notorious affair with Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, siring a daughter in 1792. This was followed by his marriage to Mary Ponsonby in 1794, and together, they would have fifteen children! Grey distinguished himself from almost the very outset of his political career, committing himself to grand parliamentary reform. This would later be one of his greatest achievements, but not before his ambitions split opinion within the Whig Party. Prior to his election as Prime Minister, Charles Grey served as 1st Lord of the Admiralty and later as Foreign Secretary and Leader of the Opposition.
In 1830, following the death of King George IV - who allegedly despised Grey asPrime Minister. Prime Minister Charles Grey would, during his short tenure, have a tremendous impact on the development of democracy in Great Britain and its colonies. The Reform Act of 1832 was one such example. This legislature essentially sowed the seeds of the system we still recognise today. Other reforming measures brought in by Grey included restrictions on the employment of children which, during the late Georgian era, was still very common and, perhaps more famously, the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire.
Lord Grey resigned as Prime Minister in 1834, following publicised divisions in the Irish church. He was succeeded by Lord Melbourne, who became the first Prime Minister of the soon-to-be Queen Victoria. Following his resignation, Charles Grey retired to his beloved Howick Hall, where he spent the rest of his days with his family; shedding the limelight that had followed him throughout his fascinating career. He later died there, peacefully, and surrounded by his family, at the age of 81.
Earl Grey Tea in Popular Culture
“Tea, Earl Grey, hot” - a phrase frequently uttered by Captain Picard of the Starship Enterprise. For those who are not familiar with the saying (or the famous television program, for that matter) this quote originates from Star Trek: The Next Generation, which ran from 1987 to 1994. Portrayed by the actor, Patrick Stewart, Captain Picard’s favourite brew is Earl Grey Tea.
When on the bridge of his spaceship (better known as the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D among all you nerds out there), Steward’s character often ‘orders’ his favourite beverage through a futuristic machine known as a replicator, which has the ability to ‘materialise’ the tea upon command. Unfortunately, The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company do not have access to this technology, and must suffice with putting on the kettle, and brewing up the ‘old-fashioned’ way! (We can only dream!)
Earl Grey Tea Benefits
When it comes to flavoured teas, the health benefits of Earl Grey Tea are usually twofold. Earl Grey is no exception, and can provide the avid consumer with health-promoting properties, both through its tea leaves and the addition of bergamot essence upon infusion. Contrary to popular belief, all black tea types including, of course, Earl Grey Tea are full of antioxidants.
While these magnificent compounds are not in as greater abundance as those found in Green Tea, this does not mean, by far, that black teas are without their beneficial qualities. Earl Grey, for example, is rich in antioxidants known as polyphenols; specifically, those known as theaflavin and thearubigin. Combined, these polyphenolic compounds have the ability to combat free radicals found within the body.
When consumed as part of a healthy and active lifestyle, Earl Grey can offer excellent weight management, as well as improved cognitive function, and even a reduced risk of Type II Diabetes! These are just to name a few! Earl Grey Tea’s health benefits are not only incredible, but also - and perhaps more importantly - absolutely proven.
This is owing to modern science, and a multitude of reputable institutes, discovering the amazing capabilities of this wonder-brew. It should, however, be noted that no two individuals will ever have the exact same results from frequent Earl Grey consumption. Factors such as whether you eat well, exercise frequently, and even minute details such as how you ‘take your tea’ can have a potentially momentous impact on the health benefits of black tea. Yet, providing this is taken into account, choosing Earl Grey might just be the best decision you ever make.=
Earl Grey Tea and Weight Loss
Like most teas, including almost all types of Black, Green, White, and Oolong, Earl Grey can help to keep those pesky pounds off! The small amount of citrus extract found within this brew can help to stimulate the metabolism. It is important to recognise, however, that the effects of the bergamot oil are minimal. The inclusion of black tea leaves, on the other hand, potentially hold the key to Earl Grey’s weight loss ability.
The frequent consumption of Earl Grey Tea can likewise stimulate and even boost the metabolism. This, in turn, can lead to your body enhancing its ability to burn fat quicker, and more efficiently.
Further to this, studies have indicated that the moderate caffeine content found within Earl Grey can also lead to improved weight management. Similar to the Bergamot oil, these results are minimal. Still, all of these elements combined may be the answer to once again fitting into your favourite pair of jeans! After all, even the smallest of differences are differences nonetheless - every little helps!
Earl Grey Tea and Improved Digestion
At the same time that Earl Grey Tea tackles that excess weight around your stomach, it is also helping your body from the inside, in more than one way. Praised for its anti-inflammatory properties, Earl Grey has often been used by natural health practitioners to combat colic and nausea. It can also settle the stomach and lower inflammation of the gut.
This subsequently leads to relief from bloating, constipation, cramps, and even hemorrhoids, as well as other stomach-related issues. The antioxidant and antibacterial effects of the tea can also prevent infections in the gut. Meanwhile, the caffeine and bergamot oil in Earl Grey can support these benefits.
Earl Grey Tea and Lower “Bad” Cholesterol
It has emerged, after recent scientific research, that the bergamot extract found in Earl Grey Tea is just as effective as statins at controlling cholesterol. It is now believed that the oil contains enzymes known as hydroxymethyl glutaryl flavonoids (HMGF) which can combat proteins in the body that potentially cause heart disease.
A study published in the 2014 Journal of Functional Foods saw researchers use concentrations of bergamot oil enzymes on these proteins. The results established its effectiveness in lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol levels while substantially increasing “good” cholesterol levels. While further studies are likely required, this early research indicates that Earl Grey Tea could be a much-needed boost for around 60% of British adult males and 75% of British adult females currently suffering from too much LDL cholesterol in their bloodstreams.
Earl Grey Tea and Depression
There is nothing quite as harmonious as sitting down on the sofa after a long, stressful day, and enjoying a cup of your favourite tea. It seems as if all your worries gradually drift away, and in a way, they do! Earl Grey Tea contains an amino acid known as L-theanine. This component in the tea can increase alpha brain activity, which subsequently leads to experiencing a state of calm and ease.
Aside from improving your overall mood, L-theanine also contributes to reducing depression and anxiety. Further to this, the caffeine content in this tea can help to increase focus and clarity, without - for the most - resulting in side effects such as jitteriness and restlessness. Ultimately, Earl Grey can either help you face your issues head-on, or simply provide you with a clear and relaxed mind to sleep well and try again the following day.
Our Selection of Earl Grey Teas
It is almost hard to believe the sheer amount of choice you have in Earl Grey blends through The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company. Why not start with our traditional House Loose Leaf Earl Grey, which is not only a best seller, but has also won the Great Taste award - twice! This loose leaf blend is a perfect mix of Assam, Keemun, and Darjeeling teas - all infused with natural oil of bergamot.
We also have our very own Earl Grey Tea Bags, bringing you all your favourite flavours in convenient tea bag form! For those who are looking to cut their caffeine intake, we also sell an Earl Grey Decaffeinated Tea. This strong, black loose leaf refuses to sacrifice any of its trademark Earl Grey flavours and aromas, even after the CO2 decaffeination process (which, incidentally, is the safest method of decaffeination). Perhaps you are looking to find a brew that satisfies your sweet tooth. Finally, why not go 'green' with our Earl Grey Green Loose Tea? Unmistakably 'Earl Grey' from the very first sip, this is a choice brew for anyone looking to be more health conscious!
Consider the dessert-like treat of our Cream Earl Grey. This tea has the appearance of any other Earl Grey, with the addition of stunning cornflowers. Once brewed, it also takes on a soft, comforting feel - a true delight to the senses with every sip! Alternatively, for those who prefer a heartier brew, we stock a Russian Earl Grey! This wonderful loose leaf tea is infused with Thai Lemongrass and Spanish Oranges. We use a blend of high grown Ceylon Orange Pekoe Teas and China Black Teas from the Anhui Province for this flavoursome beverage. Traditionally in Russia, sweet orange peel and herbs were added to soften and smooth the taste of bergamot. Russian Earl Grey is a homage to that tradition. Whether you choose to reap the benefits of these delicious teas, or simply enjoy them for their indulgent flavours, there will undoubtedly be something for everyone here at the Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company.