Beyond the Blend: Earl Grey

If the word “tea” is synonymous with “Earl Grey” as far as you’re concerned, you’re not alone. There are millions of diehard Earl Grey fans around the world who would sooner give up tea altogether than try another blend. We get it. Earl Grey is a classic with its signature bergamot oil giving the black tea base a soft, citrusy boost. Plus the name is just flat-out classy, right? Especially when ordered up by the British actor Patrick Stewart in his role as Captain Jean Luc Piccard in the tv series “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Whenever Capt. Piccard ordered tea up from the computer, he would say the same thing, “Earl Grey. Hot.”

It’s totally apropos that a British actor would make Earl Grey even more famous since it was named after Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl Grey and Prime Minister of England from 1830-1834. While the true origins of how the tea blend came into being are not truly known -- saving the life of a Chinese mandarin is part of a couple of unsubstantiated stories -- the Grey family said that the unusual addition of bergamot oil was due to the high level of lime in the water near the Grey family home. The bergamot helped offset the lime in the tea water and made it more palatable. Whatever the reason, we are all grateful.

(A side note on bergamot: the oil is extracted from the rinds of  Citrus bergamia, a fruit that grows on bergamot orange trees. While its origins are in southeast Asia, it is now grown around the world, but production primarily takes place in Reggio di Calabria in the toe of Italy’s boot; bergamot production there has become synonymous with the area. In addition to its signature flavor in Earl Grey tea, it has many uses including aromatherapy, perfumes, cosmetics, hair and more.)

The original Charles Grey was a British general during our War of Independence. He impressed King George III enough to get the hereditary title of Earl Grey.  

While we are not about to pry a cuppa Earl Grey out of anyone’s hand, we included this popular tea in our “Beyond the Blend” series to help introduce Earl Grey fans to some other EG varie-teas that we offer. We understand that what we are asking of those committed to Earl Grey as the one and only tea for them is akin to asking a non-swimmer to come out into the deep water… but trust us, we’ll have you floating in ecstasy when you discover a larger pool of Earl Grey teas to delight and expand your horizons.

Before we get to our takes on the original, let’s talk about our original  Earl Grey. This recipe was passed on to John Harney by his mentor Stanley Mason. Stanley liked this four-part blend of oolong and black teas. A good deal of strength from the Ceylon, Assam, and Keemun teas are lightened by the Formosa oolong, which has light fruit notes. Stanley also introduced John to the supplier of the best bergamot. We have bought from this Philadelphia-based firm for almost 40 years.

Only a tea as awesome as Earl Grey could inspire so many variations:

 Earl Grey Supreme. We took our already excellent  classic Earl Grey and added Silver Tips, a rare white tea with sublime light flavors. Some Earl Grey fans report once they had EG Supreme, they were hooked.

 Earl Grey Imperial. We blended this tea specifically to be part of our Historic Royal Palace tea line -- it was one of the first five original teas in that line. In addition to black tea and bergamot oil, we added oolong tea and made the blend stronger in body than an original Earl Grey as an homage to our British friends, who generally prefer a more robust tea.

 Winter White Earl Grey. As the name suggests, this blend swaps out the traditional black tea base for a Chinese Mutan white tea. The trademark lemoniness of bergamot is still there, of course, but the base is lighter than a traditional EG. Based on our customers’ reactions, Winter White EG is a winner.

 Organic Earl Grey. We would have been out of our minds to not create an Earl Grey blend when we started our Organic line. The tea base here is an organic black Assam from the northern bank of the Brahmaputra River in India and Korakundah located in southern India. Add bergamot and tah dah! Organic Earl Grey.

 Decaf Earl Grey. We took our decaf Ceylon black tea and added bergamot. Nothin’ fancy, just a beautifully decaffeinated version of the classic, perfect for ending your day with a comforting, sleep-tight cuppa EG.

 Victorian London Fog. This blend was the winner of our customer creation contest a few years ago. To a base of black and oolong teas, we added not only bergamot but lavender and vanilla flavors for a delicious variation on the EG theme. After all, it was created by a Harney customer and chosen by Harney customers, so how could it be anything but wonderful?

Diamond Jubilee. We created this special Earl Grey in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, celebrating her 60 years on the throne. We started with black tea and added silver tips for a light and elegant base. Then we added bergamot and grapefruit flavor for a lovely bright citrusy flavor fit for a queen… also for everyone else, royalty or not.

Have we convinced you yet? We hope you’ll step out beyond the blend and discover teas that build on the one-of-a-kind qualities of Earl Grey. In the spirit of Earl Grey rep Captain Piccard and Star Trek, it’s time for Earl Grey lovers to explore new tea worlds, to seek out new Earl Grey teas and blends, and to boldly go where Earl Grey drinkers have not gone before!

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