Timeless, classic, highbrow. Yes we’re talking about Earl Grey Black Tea with its iconic bergamot orange twist. Named after British prime minister and Earl Charles Grey, a traditional Earl Grey Tea is a blend of Indian and Ceylon teas (or China black teas) flavored with the tart oil derived from the rind of the bergamot fruit.
From there the varieties are almost endless. Most contain the vital bergamot (a sour orange shaped like a pear) but some blends mix in green tea (in a variety known as Earl Grey Green), a scattering of lavender and citrus peel (in a variety known as Lady Grey), rose petals (in a variety known as French Earl Grey), a pinch of lemon grass (in Russian Earl Grey, sometimes mispelled as Earl Gray). There’s even a version that substitutes rooibos tea for black tea in a version called – wait for it – Rooibos Earl Grey.
But for me, when it comes to Earl Grey tea (and most things in fact), the less tampering with a timeless classic the better. The key to a good Earl Grey is the quality of the black tea leaves. A good black tea blend will anchor the bright notes from the bergamot oil letting it liven up the sip without overpowering it. Adding bergamot oil to mask a poor quality black tea, will simply not deliver what is required. After all we’re drinking tea, not potpourri in a cup.
And along with Captain Pickard from Star Trek, I don’t drink mine with milk! (But I do think the light citrus flavor of the tea pairs beautifully with a creamy cake and a squeeze of lemon …)
While some flavored teas are a bit suspect, a classic Earl Grey has been around for so long, it doesn’t have to try to be wildly popular. It just is.