Confessions of a bergamot addict
I love Earl Grey Tea. Lots of people who really love tea emphatically do not like Earl Grey–and that’s perfectly fine. We all have different tastes. There are foods other people love that make me want to gag, and I am happy to let them enjoy those foods. Which is to say, this post is not meant to convince other people to like the same tea I do, nor to disparage anyone who doesn’t.
I know that I do not have sophisticated taste in tea. I grew up in rural communities where Lipton Flo-Thru® teabags were considered fancy. Most of the grocery stores seemed to carry black tea blends from Tetley, Red Rose, and Lipton. Occasionally they had Twinings teas, and they were more expensive than the others, so I had heard of and seen Earl Grey tea long before I ever tasted it.
Once I had tasted it, it became my favorite tea for many, many years.
There are various stories about how Earl Grey tea came about. The one that seems least far-fetched is that oil of bergamot was added to black tea in order to counteract the high level of lime that came out of the well at Howick Hall in Northumberland, where C Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, and his wife entertained guests. In 1830 Robert Jackson & Company claimed to be the first to sell the tea after obtaining the recipe from Lord Grey, though written references to “Grey’s Tea” only date back to the 1850s. And the oldest advertisements using the name “Earl Grey’s Mixture” date from some years later, in the 1880s, and from a different tea company entirely, Charlton & Co (which was founded by a former partner of Robert Jackson).
Jackson’s company was later bought by R. Twinings and Company, Limited, and for decades Twinings maintained they were the only company following the original recipe. Until 2011, when they reformulated it (to much protest).
The bergamot orange comes from a citrus tree that is grown commercially in Italy. Like all commercial citrus fruits, it is a hybrid of wild varieties that are now propagated by grafting–in other words, every bergamot tree in the world is a clone of one particular plant.
As I said, I’m something of a bergamot addict, by which I mean that I like many different blends of Earl Grey. The Numi Tea Company, for instance, sells an Aged Earl Grey, which they make by layering bergamot and the tea leaves to age for several weeks. The aged tea has a subtler almost smoky citrus taste to my tongue than the typical Earl Grey. Stash, on the other hand, sells a Double Bergamot Earl Grey, which despite the name all they say is that it has more bergamot oil than their regular Earl Grey. In any case, the citrus taste of this blend is more prominent.
Then there are lavender Earl Greys teas. My favorite, when I can find it, is Revolution’s Earl Grey Lavender. The lavender taste compliments and mellows the citrus, to my tongue. Stash also has a lavender Earl Grey, though the name they market it under is Breakfast in Paris. For some reason they only mention the lavender in small print on the boxes. Stash’s is good, though not quite as brisk to my tongue as Revolution’s version. Revolution’s tea is a blend of black, oolong, and darjeeling teas, which may also effect the flavor. Stash also includes vanilla extract. Who knows.
Stash also makes and Earl Grey Black & Green tea, which is a blend of green tea and black tea with bergamot oil. I happen to like this tea better than the regular Stash Earl Grey, though not as much as the Double Bergamot.
All of these come in tea bags, and as one former co-worker liked to say, American and European tea bags contain the stuff swept up from the floor of the tea aging house. Loose teas are what true tea connoisseurs swear by. And when I make tea from loose leaves the taste does seem stronger than from bags.
Of course, to make it from loose leaves you need to have an infuser. I have a few that are intended to making a single cup, but the issue then is that I have to clean out the used leaves, wet, clumping leaves after making a cup, and I wind up switching back to tea bags for any cup after the first. Until a few weeks ago, where I gave in an bought a small glass infuser pot, that lets me make about four mugs worth of tea at once. So I don’t have to deal with the used leaves after each cup.
Which is a good thing, because my friend, Mark, bought me this very tasty loose leaf Earl Grey for Christmas before last, and I hadn’t been drinking it very fast. And the leaves start going stale after a while. Since getting the infuser pot I’ve been drinking more tea and less coffee on the weekends, and really going through that tin of tea.
Which gives me an excuse to go shopping for more.
If you happen to have any recommendations for loose leaf teas, particularly Earl Grey blends, let me know!
Then we can (virtually) sit down together for a nice cuppa…