When you answer the question “would you like a cup of tea” with “do you have earl grey?”, it might raise an admiring eyebrow or two but it won’t have people regretting asking in the first place like some other whacky choices.
We’re looking at you lapsang souchong.
In this post, we'll dive into all things earl grey tea, its health benefits, and some tips on how to brew the perfect cup.
So, if you're here to learn more about a tea that offers a very distinct flavour and a touch of class to tea time, look no further.
Put the kettle on and let's get started.
What is earl grey?
Earl grey tea is a popular black tea blend that is flavoured with oil extracted from the rind of the bergamot orange. The blend typically consists of Chinese, Indian or Sri Lankan black tea, which provides a robust and full-bodied base for the citrusy bergamot flavour.
The pear-shaped, yellow-green coloured bergamot orange is smaller than the classic orange orange, with a far more bitter and sour taste. While the fruit originated in the Calabria region of southern Italy, they are grown all over the world nowadays from the Ivory Coast to Türkiye.
The exact origin of earl grey tea is unclear, but it is named after Charles Grey, the 2nd Grey and former British Prime Minister. The first mention of tea flavoured with bergamot dates to 1824.
Today, earl grey tea is enjoyed by people all over the world and is available in a variety of blends and styles. Variations include green or white tea as the base, while others add additional ingredients like lavender, vanilla, or other citrus peels to enhance the flavour profile.
Some mad hatters even blend it with lapsang souchong.
In short, any blend of tea that is flavoured with bergamot can be called earl grey.
What does earl grey taste like?
The flavour of earl grey will, of course, vary depending on brand and brewing method, but generally speaking, you can expect the citrus flavour of the bergamot oil to dominate which has a bitterness to complement the natural bitterness of tea.
Expert tea blenders *cough* will select tea leaves that have a naturally smoother or milder flavour in order to balance out the bitterness of the bergamot.
Who was earl grey and why did he deserve to have a tea named after him?
Charles Grey was a British politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in an extremely aristocratic government from 1830 to 1834.
Charlie G. inherited the title of Earl Grey from his father in 1807. During his time as Prime Minister, Grey oversaw significant political reforms, including the passage of the Reform Act of 1832, which expanded the right to vote and reformed parliamentary representation.
This essentially lowered the property requirements necessary to vote, which enabled middle-class men to participate in the political process.
There are several theories about how the tea came to be named after Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl Grey. One popular theory is that the tea was blended specifically for the Earl by a Chinese tea trader as a gift, and it was named in his honour.
Another theory suggests that the tea was named after the Earl as a marketing ploy to boost its popularity.
While there is no conclusive evidence to support either theory, as enthusiastic peddlers of tea, the Chanui party line is the latter.
The QI Elves seem to agree.
Is earl grey tea good for you?
The short answer is yes. Like most types of tea, earl grey contains a number of beneficial compounds that can be good for your health. These include antioxidants, which help to protect the body against oxidative stress and may lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.
Does earl grey have any specific health benefits?
As always, we'll remind you not to take medical advice from a tea brand too seriously and always consult real doctors when making any major lifestyle or dietary change.
With that out of the way, let's see what smarter people than us have found:
The bergamot in earl grey could help lower your blood pressure by reducing cholesterol levels
Flavonoids are natural compounds found in bergamot extract that may lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and protect against chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes.
Some research suggests that bergamot extract, when combined with other natural compounds, may be an effective treatment for high blood pressure as they can act as natural statins.
The following study offers a good overview of the subject if you'd like to learn more.
Earl grey could help with anxiety
Have you ever met a highly strung earl grey drinker? Us neither.
While researching this subject we tried to think of all the people we’d come across who regularly drink earl grey and realised that they are universally relaxed people.
But this is hardly evidence so onto the science!
The olfactory system which is responsible for our sense of smell, is closely linked to the limbic system in the brain. The limbic system is involved in regulating emotions, including anxiety and is thought to be one of the oldest parts of the brain evolutionarily.
Just think of the power that smells have to transport you back to incredibly specific times in your life and you get the idea of how these parts of out nervous systems interplay.
Probably a topic worthy of a whole blog post at some point in the future.
For now back to earl grey!
This study found that inhaling the aroma of bergamot essential oil for 15 minutes was effective in reducing anxiety in rats subjected to an elevated plus-maze test. The exact mechanism by which bergamot helps with anxiety is not fully understood yet.
As mentioned above, the memories evoked through aroma could be key but surely rats aren’t reminiscing on holidays to southern Italy? Rather it is likely that there is something inherent to bergamot oil specifically that’s having this calming effect.
This study suggests that the essential oil may modulate the activity of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid.
Undoubtedly interesting but quite rodent specific.
One for the humans:
A more relevant study for our own species can be found in this study:
It found that compared to a placebo, inhaling Bergamot Essential Oil (BEO) improved mood and cognitive performance, reduced feelings of stress and fatigue, and lowered cortisol levels in the saliva in hospital staff.
The study suggests that BEO has the potential to act as a stress-relieving agent. What more proof do you need that this tea chills you out!
How much caffeine is in earl grey tea?
As is the case with all “true tea” (any tea that is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant) the caffeine content in earl grey tea can vary depending on the brand and how it is brewed.
However, a good rule of thumb is around about 40-70 milligrams of caffeine in a 250 ml cup of earl grey tea.
This means you could have around 7-10 cups and still be within recommended daily limits of 400 milligrams for non-pregnant adults.
According to caffeineinformer.com you can expect 44.4 mg of caffeine in a 250 ml cup if it has been steeped for 5 minutes or more.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, consult a medical professional if you’re worried about your caffeine intake.
Once more for those at the back, tea brand ≠ doctor.
Can you drink earl grey when pregnant?
It's generally recommended that pregnant women don't consume more than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day. So, while it's safe to enjoy earl grey during pregnancy, it's best not to have too many cups in a single day.
If you want to minimise your caffeine intake, you can steep your teabag or loose leaf tea leaves in boiling water for one minute, discard the brew, and then use the washed tea for the cup you intend to drink. This will leave you with trace levels of caffeine.
How do you make earl grey tea?
We’ll start with a massive caveat right off the bat: we don’t claim to know the right way to brew any type of tea, including earl grey. What we do know comes from 20+ years in the tea business and a lot of practice.
So you can spare us your outrage.
Our way goes like this:
1 teabag or teaspoon (4 grams) per 250 ml cup.
Always use fresh boiling water.
Infuse for 3-4 minutes.
Serve with any sweeteners and or milk to taste.
The oxygen in water is vital to unlocking the maximum flavour and scent from your tea leaves.
When you boil water, some of the dissolved gases, including oxygen, can escape the water as steam.
If you reboil water, it will contain less dissolved oxygen than fresh water, which can affect the taste of your tea. So fill up the kettle with as much water as you need each time you use it. Energy conservation is an added bonus!
That is all we know about the wonderful world of earl grey so far. If you haven’t tried it, you should. While English breakfast tea is a classic, it’s always nice to add a little twist of fruit to your day from time to time.
It’s an excellent choice for both cold brew and as a hot tea to drink without any milk.
Thanks for reading!
Final final thought
We’ve used the words earl grey 28 times in this article.