Traditional Earl Grey is a blend of black tea flavored with the essence of Bergamot rind, though the name may also be used to refer to any tea—black or otherwise—that uses bergamot as a flavoring (such as our organic green Earl Grey, and our organic Earl Grey rooibos blends). Bergamots are small tart oranges native to southern Vietnam that research suggests are a cross between the sweet lemon, Citrus limetta, and the sour orange, C. aurantium, and the essential oils from their rinds are what give Earl Grey its characteristic flavor. Consequently, the tea often sees use in all manner of confectionary, lending a subtle, citrusy zest to chocolates (like our tea-infused truffles!), cakes, or sauces.
This famous tea is named for an English prime minister, Lord Charles Grey the second, from the 1830s who first popularized its consumption. There is a popular legend that the Earl received the tea as a gift from a grateful Mandarin after one of his men saved the Mandarin (or his son, depending on which version of the story you hear) from drowning. Charming though it is, the story has no basis in fact, because the Earl never traveled to China during his life. Beyond that, no records indicate that the Bergamot was even cultivated in China at that time, so this tea would have been a very unusual gift! Nevertheless, the current Earl Grey, Lord Charles Grey the sixth, maintains that at the very least his ancestor was given the tea as a gift from a Chinese envoy, and he endorses Twinings of London’s recipe for the tea. Interestingly, the English teahouse Jacksons of Piccadilly also claims to be in possession of the original recipe for Earl Grey, having received it from the Earl himself in 1830. Click on the following links to purchase the teas traditionally used in this custom: