Earl Grey tea – its history and taste 1

Earl Grey tea is now enjoyed worldwide but what is it and where does it come from?

The first point to understand is that it is not actually a different tea but rather a black tea flavoured with the rind of the bergamot orange. Think of it as an herbal tea. However because the bergamot oil can hide the taste of a lower grade black tea you need to carefully check the grade and quality of the tea before you buy it. It is typically used as an afternoon tea.

The history of Earl Grey tea.

It was first developed for the 2nd Earl Grey of Howick Hall in Northumberland (UK). He was the British Prime minister back in the 1830’s and is still remembered for passing the reform bill of 1832 which brought much needed electoral reform to a rapidly changing Industrial society.

Unfortunately for the Grey family they neglected to register the trade mark and have never received royalties from this well known brand of tea.

What is a bergamot orange and why is it used?

It is a fruit about the size of a normal orange which grows on small trees. They blossom during the winter and it is native to Calabria in Italy. The juice of the bergamot orange is less sour than that of a lemon but quite a bit more bitter than that from a grapefruit. It has a very distinctive aroma.

The bergamot orange brings a distinct aroma to the tea. It has a tart and refreshing taste and it is believed that the bergamot was used to offset the lime which was prevalent in the local water around Howick Hall.

Earl Grey tea and cooking.

Earl Grey tea is often used to flavour cakes and confectionery. Typically the tea bags would be boiled in a basic stock for a couple of minutes. Alternatively loose tea could be added to melted butter or hot cream. The leaves would then be strained after the flavour has infused the food.

The actual fruit is not edible and it is mainly used for the fragrant oil. However there are examples where the peel is candied. It has also been used to produce an Italian marmalade. Around the Spring Mediterranean the peel is boiled in sugar syrup to make a preserve. In the Scandinavian countries you can find bergamot used to flavour “snus”, a local smokeless tobacco product.

The bergamot orange as a fragrance.

The peel is used extensively in the manufacture of perfumes and it was an essential ingredient of the original Eau de Cologne which was developed in the 17th century.

Are there specific benefits from drinking Earl Grey tea?

Well there are claimed to be at least five benefits:

  1. As with other teas it is associated with Antioxidants   which can help to prevent cancer.
  2. As an antidepressant. Many people find the flavour to soothing and a help in cultivating calmness.
  3. Reduces fever and helps with intestinal problems. This is the direct impact of the bergamot orange which has a long history of being used for these problems in Calabria, Italy.
  4. Taken after a main meal it is believed to help digestion.
  5. The bergamot has mild antiseptic properties and can help with oral hygiene.


Howick Hall and the surrounding countryside.

Howick Hall is beside the Northumberland coast and about 50 miles south of the border with Scotland. During the 19th century there was tremendous industrial growth in the area and in addition to the second Earl who rose to be Prime minister there were a number of other equally famous names from the county, for instance:

Lord Armstrong, Industrialist and philanthropist. Associated with arms manufacture and shipbuilding

Admiral Lord Collingwood, he fought with Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar and assumed command of the fleet when Nelson was killed.

Howick hall is now open to the public during the summer months and is well known for its extensive collection of trees and shrubs.

In conclusion.

Earl Grey tea is a distinctive herbal tea with a light and refreshing flavour. It is typically drank as afternoon tea and has a history going back nearly 200 years to a British Prime minister who lived along the rocky coast of Northumberland (UK).

One comment on “Earl Grey tea – its history and taste

  1. Pingback: KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Tales of turkey gone wrong — plus a stuffing recipe with a twist | Ottawa Magazine

Leave a Reply