The English are famous for their tea blends, and one of the most famous blends is Earl Grey Tea. It is more than just a simple blend though. Earl Grey tea gets its distinctive taste from an oil extracted from the rind of the bergamot orange.
Earl Grey tea is named after the 2nd Earl Grey, Prime Minister to King William IV from 1830 to 1834. Legend surrounding Earl Grey tea has it that the Prime Minister was presented with a gift of tea that was flavored with bergamot oil. The tea was so popular that the Earl asked his tea merchants to come up with a similar blend.
The tea merchants were the famous tea company Twinings in the Strand and they named the resulting tea blend Earl Grey Tea. Twinings Earl Gray tea is a mix of Darjeeling, Ceylon, and Lapsang souchong teas, flavored, of course, with the distinctive bergamot oil.
Another company also claims to be the originators of Earl Grey tea. Jacksons of Piccadilly claim that Lord Grey gave the recipe for Earl Grey tea to the company back in 1830. Jacksons Earl Grey tea is based solely on Chinese black tea.
There are currently many brands of Earl Grey tea on the market. Some of the more unscrupulous tea companies use inferior quality tea for their Earl Grey tea because the taste of the bergamot oil can mask the taste of poor tea.
What is Bergamot?
The flavoring ingredient of Earl Grey tea – bergamot oil – is from the rind of the bergamot orange. This citrus fruit is grown in Italy and is a cross between the pear lemon and the Seville orange.
The peel of the bergamot orange contains an essential oil. This oil is used to flavor Earl Grey tea and is also used in aromatherapy and to make perfume.
Bergamot oil has been used for medicinal purposes since at least the 12th century. It was used to treat intestinal worms and fever, and also has antiseptic properties.
As an aromatherapy it is often used to treat depression. The active compounds in bergamot oil have a calming effect and can reduce anxiety.
Tea itself has many health benefits, so it seems that Earl Grey tea has all the benefits of regular tea as well as the special benefits provided by the bergamot oil.