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The History of Earl Grey Tea

Earl Grey is a popular type of tea known for its distinctive flavour and aroma, which comes from adding bergamot oil to black tea leaves. It is our most popular loose-leaf tea blend at Babingtons and one we have served in our tearooms for over 100 years. 

But, where did Earl Grey tea originate, and what is its history? Read on to explore the origins of Earl Grey tea and how it became the beverage we know and love today.

The Origins of Earl Grey Tea:

Earl Grey tea is believed to have originated in the early 19th century in England, during the reign of King George III. According to legend, the tea was first created by a Chinese Mandarin who blended black tea with bergamot oil to create a unique flavour. The tea was then given as a gift to the British Prime Minister, Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl of Grey, in the 1830s. The Earl was said to have enjoyed the tea so much that he asked his tea merchant, Richard Twining, to recreate it for him.

While there are several versions of the story, it's clear that the tea was named after the Earl of Grey and that the original recipe included bergamot oil. The tea quickly became popular among the upper classes in England and eventually spread throughout Europe and North America.

Bergamot and its Role in Earl Grey Tea:

Bergamot is a type of citrus fruit that is primarily grown in the south of Italy. The oil extracted from the rind of the fruit is what gives Earl Grey tea its unique flavour and aroma. Bergamot oil is known for its citrusy, floral and slightly spicy notes, which complement the bold flavour of black tea.

The exact amount of bergamot oil used in Earl Grey tea can vary depending on the manufacturer, but the general rule is to use enough to give the tea a distinct flavour without overpowering the taste of the tea itself.

Variations of Earl Grey Tea:

While the original Earl Grey tea recipe is made with black tea and bergamot oil, many variations of the tea are now available. Some tea makers use different types of tea leaves, such as green tea or oolong tea, while others add additional flavours, such as lavender or vanilla.

At Babingtons, we use lemon peel and vibrant blue cornflowers in our blend, to not only create a delicious-tasting tea, but one that looks beautiful too. As a base, we use Ceylon black tea from Sri Lanka, a flavour of tea that isn’t overwhelmed by the Bergamot Oil. However, we never add a slice of lemon when customers ask - always a slice of orange. Perfect.

In recent years, Earl Grey has also become a popular ingredient in cocktails and desserts, with chefs and bartenders using the tea to add a unique flavour to their creations.

In Conclusion:

Earl Grey tea has a rich and fascinating history that dates back to the 19th century. Its unique flavour and aroma, created by the addition of bergamot oil, have made it a beloved beverage around the world. Whether you prefer the classic black tea version or one of the many variations available, there's no denying the appeal of Earl Grey tea.

If you haven’t tried Earl Grey, or think you know what Earl Grey tastes like, we invite you to try a cup of our Babingtons Imperial Earl Grey. It’s a perfectly balanced tea, with a Ceylon base that we recommend serving with a zesty slice of orange, not lemon of course.