You’ve probably been introduced to the different types of Camellia sinensis teas – the “true teas,” as they are popularly called. But did you know that because these basic drinks are so versatile, they’ve often been infused with other types of flavors to heighten tea lovers’ experience?
One very popular example is Earl Grey tea. Whether you’re British or not, you’ve probably had a sip of this brew. But what exactly is Earl Grey tea and how did it came to be one of them most famous flavored teas today?
What Is Earl Grey Tea?
The name “Earl Grey” came from Charles Grey of England, the second Earl Grey, who served as the country’s Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834. Grey had numerous accomplishments during his term, such as abolishing slavery through the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. However, he became most well-known for being the namesake of this tea.1
The exact reason as to why the tea was named for Grey was virtually unknown, although there have been several theories that abound. One is that the Earl was said to have saved the life of a Chinese man who was into tea blending. To show his gratitude, the Chinese man presented him with a special blend he called Earl Grey tea. Another is that the tea was concocted to fit the water at Grey’s house. Due to the mineral content of the water, they needed a citrusy flavor that will match instead of clash with it. 2
Contrary to popular belief, Earl Grey tea is not an herbal brew. Rather, it is simply traditional black tea infused with the flavors of dried bergamot orange.3 Earl Grey has a very floral flavor profile, but with a distinct, lemon-like citrus and grapefruit undertones. Manufacturers use either bergamot oil or the dried peel, directly tossed with the tea leaves, which invokes a sharper flavor.4
This popular tea can come in loose leaf form or in teabags. Some manufacturers also add extra blends to their Earl Grey tea, such as lavender and vanilla. Whichever form you choose, make sure that you’re getting organic Earl Grey tea that has been grown in pristine environments and is free of pesticides and other contaminants.
Earl Grey Tea’s Potential Health Benefits
Earl Grey tea is not just loved for its soothing taste, but also for the potential benefits it offers, which include:5,6,7
• Helps improve your mood and aids in stress relief. The bergamot in Earl Grey may help ease stress, anxiety and depression. Drinking this tea may also stabilize your mood, making it particularly effective for people who often have strong mood swings.
• Promotes healthy digestion. This tea may help alleviate nausea, constipation and acid reflux, and may even reduce the risk of intestinal infection and worms.
• Helps keep the immune system healthy. The antioxidants that bergamot offers can help target and eliminate free radicals, as well as help fight against infection and manage acute and chronic conditions. It may also help prevent colds and flu, which is why during autumn and winter months, it is a popular beverage, especially in Europe.
• Helps support heart health. Black tea has been linked to lowered triglyceride levels in the body, which may help protect against stroke, heart attack and atherosclerosis. In particular, Earl Grey tea has been studied for its effect on decreasing bad cholesterol while improving good cholesterol in the body. The antioxidants in the tea may help eliminate plaque buildup and oxidative stress in the heart as well.
It’s also said that Earl Grey tea is good for your skin, and can be topically applied once cooled. Skin conditions like acne, eczema and psoriasis may benefit from it, and may even help heal or prevent blemishes caused by these conditions.
Caffeine Content in Earl Grey Tea
One question that many people ask is, “does Earl Grey tea have caffeine?” The answer is yes, it does. This is because of the oxidation that the tea leaves undergo – the greater the oxidation, the higher the caffeine content. Hence, the caffeine content in Earl Grey tea is similar to that of other black teas.
However, not all Earl Grey brands have the same level of caffeine, as there are many factors that can affect the caffeine levels, such as how the plant was processed and the method of brewing beverage.8 Generally, most cups have anywhere between 55 to 90 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per cup. Decaffeinated Earl Grey tea, on the other hand, may only have 2 to 10 mg in every cup.9
How to Make Earl Grey Tea
To make flavored teas like Earl Grey, the flavoring is usually added towards the end of the processing, after the tea leaves have dried. Depending on the flavored tea variety, flowers, herbs and spices are blended into the tea, making them visually appealing and infusing them with flavor and aroma.
The tea leaves may also be coated or sprayed with essential oils and extracts either during or after the drying process. This gives them a stronger flavor but with fewer ingredients. Do note that there is no one way to make Earl Grey tea, and there’s a chance that every Earl Grey tea you've ever tasted has probably had a slightly different flavor. Three factors may affect the flavor of Earl Grey, namely:10
• The type of black tea used
• The type of bergamot used
• How much bergamot was added
In addition, the flavoring-to-tea ratio is completely determined by the tea manufacturer – hence the notable difference in the flavor of each Earl Grey brand.11
Try This Easy Earl Grey Tea Recipe
Earl grey is a popular brunch or afternoon tea and pairs well with pastries like Madeleine cakes and scones. If you want to learn how to make your own Earl Grey tea at home instead of buying a ready-to-brew tea, here’s an easy recipe for you to follow:12
Orange Bergamot Tea Recipe
• 1 fresh bergamot orange
• Loose leaf black tea
1. Clean the bergamot orange and remove the peel into small strands. Dry them either by using heat or air drying (may take anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours). You can also use a dehydrator.
2. Place the peel in a jar of loose black tea leaves, in a tightly sealed container, and leave for a few days to infuse. The tea will absorb the flavor of the peel.
3. Taste the tea. You may need to experiment to find out the ideal peel-to-tea ratio that suits your taste.
You can use the recipe above as a base and then infuse other flavors in it. Earl Grey tea latte is also popular, but take note that adding milk can diminish the potency of some of tea’s antioxidants. As an alternative, try adding a bit of lemon juice or some honey instead.
How to Store Earl Grey Tea
There are different factors that can affect the shelf life of Earl Grey and other teas, and one very important example is making sure to store it properly. Ideally, place the tea in a cool, dark place, away from moisture, which will shorten the shelf life, and heat and light, which can degrade the tea.
There is no need to refrigerate tea – rather, it’s best to place it at room temperature, anywhere between 68 to 77 degrees F (20 to 25 degrees C). Place it in a tightly sealed container that will keep out oxygen, as this can oxidize the tea as well. Finally, place the tea away from coffee, spices or other elements in your pantry with a strong odor. Separate flavored teas like Earl Grey away from non-flavored and herbal teas as well.13
Earl Grey Tea Side Effects
The side effects of Earl Grey are mostly attributed to its caffeine content, and may include anxiety, tremors, heart palpitations and inability to sleep.14 If you’re very sensitive to caffeine, you may feel these effects even with a small sip, so it’s best to avoid Earl Grey tea or opt for the decaffeinated variety. Drinking Earl Grey is also ill-advised during pregnancy, as it may affect your health or the baby.15
In addition, bergamot oil may also impart other health effects. This is because it contains a toxin called bergapten, which can affect potassium absorption in certain neurons, leading to effects such as:16
• Muscle twitches
• Cramps in the hands and legs
• Prickling or burning sensations
• Pressure in the eyes
• Blurry vision
It’s said that bergamot oil contains chemicals that make individuals more susceptible to sunburn, causing increased photosensitivity, so remember this before drinking Earl Grey tea.17
Have You Tried This Flavored Tea Yet?
Todd Chatterton, the Director of Coffee and Tea at New York's Eleven Madison Park, describes Earl Grey as “one of the most fundamental, approachable types of tea, representing an ‘anchoring point in tea culture,’ due to its mild, balanced taste."18 Indeed, this is one elegant and soothing drink you must not miss out on, not just for its flavor but its health benefits as well.
However, take note that Earl Grey tea comes with certain side effects, mainly due to the caffeine and bergamot it contains. Listen to your body, and if you see any of the symptoms mentioned above, take a break from drinking it or reduce your consumption.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Earl Grey Tea
Q: What is Earl Grey tea made from?
A: Earl Grey tea is basically black tea that is blended with bergamot. Manufacturers use either bergamot oil or the dried peel, tossed with the tea leaves, which produces a sharper flavor.
Q: What does Earl Grey tea taste like?
A: The flavor of Earl Grey is very floral, although it has distinct, lemon-like citrus and grapefruit undertones.
Q: Does Earl Grey tea have caffeine?
A: Yes, Earl Grey tea is caffeinated. Most brews have anywhere between 55 to 90 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per cup. If you are sensitive to caffeine, pregnant or breastfeeding, avoid Earl Grey tea or opt for decaffeinated varieties.
Q: What’s the best way to drink Earl Grey tea?
A: Earl grey tea can be enjoyed either hot or cold, with a squeeze of lemon and a bit of raw honey for sweetness. Avoid adding milk, as this may destroy some of the tea’s antioxidants.
Q: Is Earl Grey tea gluten-free?
A: Teas made from single ingredients like black tea, green tea or oolong tea, especially in loose leaf form, are usually gluten-free, but tea blends like Earl Grey may contain ingredients that might be contaminated with gluten.
There are also tea bags that use a paste made of wheat to seal their contents. It’s best to check the label or ask the manufacturer directly if their product is gluten-free.19