The Classic of the Classics: Mister Earl Grey

Having tried many teas, it’s a true challenge to reply to a question “What is your favourite?”. But Earl Grey – scented black tea – undoubtedly, must be on the top of my favourites list. Its secret? Bergamot!

What is Earl Grey?

Earl Grey is one of the classics among scented teas and bergamot is what it makes its flavour and aroma so special. Bergamot is a citrus fruit tree native to Italy that gives a lemon-like fruit but the real value of this tree comes from its natural oils appreciated both by tea merchants as well as perfumeries. So Earl Grey is a choice of black tea perfumed with bergamot oils.

There are many variations of Earl Grey mainly because of the types of black teas used and the type and the amount of bergamot oil that is added – all of which depends on a tea merchant’s choice. Some may choose to use stronger teas and just a bit of bergamot while others will go for light tea with a heavy touch of bergamot. You can also find blends like Lady Grey (traditional Earl Grey with blue cornflower blossoms), Russian Earl Grey (with pieces of citrus peel) and even Red Earl Grey (rooibos and bergamot).

Why is it called Earl Grey?

One of the legends tells that Lord Charles Grey (2nd Earl Grey), who was a British Prime Minister in the 1830s, received a diplomatic gift from China – a tea blend perfumed with bergamot oil – as a thank you for rescuing Chinese mandarin son from drowning by one of Lord Grey’s men. Another version tells a story about shipping tea from China to England together with bergamot oranges and tea absorbed the fruit flavour by coincidence. In the end, nobody really knows the true story or the connection to Lord Grey but that doesn’t prevent us from enjoying this lovely tea.

A bit about Azerbaijan because… 

My Earl Grey was brought to me first-hand from Azerbaijan (thank you, Rena!). It was produced using Ceylon black tea, one of the best black teas for flavoured blends.

Tea culture is very strong in Azerbaijan where the climate allows to cultivate tea plantations. Tea is associated with warmth and hospitality which means you won’t leave the house without being offered at least one cup. There is a saying “Çay nədir, say nədir” which means “when you drink tea, the cup count doesn’t matter” – this just proves that tea plays an important role in a daily life of Azerbaijani.

Source: A brief history of Earl Grey and The Story of Tea by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss (2007)

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