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Earl Grey is a black tea flavored with Bergamot, a type of citrus. A widely popular tea due to its mild and balanced taste. And perfect for afternoon tea.
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Learn what it is, how it became known as Earl Grey tea, and how to properly brew a cup. We’ll also give you a few ideas on what to serve for afternoon tea.
History of Earl Grey Tea
Earl Grey tea was most likely named after Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl of Grey, who was prime minister of England in the 1800s.
Charles Grey most notably said, “The only way with newspaper attacks is, as the Irish say, ‘to keep never minding’. This has been my practice through life.”
Lord Grey “reputedly received a gift, probably a diplomatic present, of tea that was flavored with bergamot oil. It became so popular that he asked British tea merchants to recreate it.”
What we now know as Earl Grey became popular in Britain in the late 1800s due to Twinings—the first company to market the tea. It then spread to the United States during the Industrial Revolution.
How Earl Grey Tea is Made
This caffeinated black tea is flavored with bergamot, a citrus fruit from Calabria, Italy, that is grown throughout the Mediterranean.
This tea is usually made by mixing black tea, like Assam or Ceylon, with either bergamot peel or bergamot essential oil.
Todd Chatterton, Director of Coffee and Tea at New York’s Eleven Madison Park, says,
“The prime flavoring in Earl Grey tea, bergamot, is a type of citrus fruit with similarities to the Meyer Lemon. The flavor profile comes across very floral, with a very distinct lemon-y citrus and a little bit of grapefruit.”
What to Serve with Earl Grey
Earl Grey is typically served with milk and sugar in America, according to Chatterton.
Noting that he prefers the British way of adding lemon and sugar.
“Milk has a tendency to do strange things to black tea,” he says. “It dulls the flavor a bit. It’s not as crisp and sharp. Lemon is the way to go.”
Chatterton suggests serving the tea with a plate of madeleines—their not-too-sweet, slightly citrusy flavor compliments the notes in Earl Grey nicely.
Twinings Tea suggests baked goods, chocolate, dairy, eggs, and spices pair well with Earl Grey.
EARL GREY BREWING GUIDE
- TEA: 1 teaspoon loose tea, or 1 tea bag
- WATER: 1 cup (8 fl. oz.)
- WATER TEMPERATURE: 206°F
- STEEP TIME: 4 minutes
WHAT YOU NEED TO MAKE TEA
- Earl Grey tea
- Cold water, filtered if possible
- Teapot with infuser
- Stovetop Tea Kettle: I love the non-toxic, whistling tea kettle from Caraway. Beautiful design and pleasant, beautiful “whistle.”
- Electric kettle: My electric kettle is in contact use. I love these kettles because you can adjust the water temperature.
HOW TO BREW EARL GREY PROPERLY
STEP 1: Boil cold water.
Twinings says, “Always use freshly drawn (filtered if possible) cold water in the kettle. Tea loves oxygen as it helps the flavor develop. Good tea depends on the water you use to make it.”
Use an electric tea kettle with a temperature setting if possible. Just under the boiling point is perfect at 206°F.
STEP 2: Warm up the teapot.
Pour freshly boiled water into a teapot and swish it around. Then discard the water.
Warming up the teapot allows the tea to unfurl, relax, and deliver the maximum flavor. It also helps to keep the tea warm without dropping the temperature.
STEP 3: Put the tea into a teapot and add hot water.
Twinings’ top tip is to “never pour boiling water over a tea bag or loose tea.” They say “this is because the boiling water will burn the tea, it scalds it and therefore, the tea doesn’t release all of its maximum flavors.”
STEP 4: Cover teapot and steep for 3-5 minutes.
Black tea is best steeped between 3 and 5 minutes. I like to steep Earl Grey for 4 minutes.
If you like a stronger cup of Earl Grey, brew more tea instead of steeping longer. Longer brewing can make your tea bitter.
STEP 5: Strain tea leaves and pour the tea into a teacup.
Pour strained tea into a teacup and then if desired, add milk, sugar, or lemon.
EARL GREY VARIATIONS
Lady Grey is scented with bergamot oil and mixed with orange and citrus peel. It’s a lighter, less strong tea.
Red Earl Grey
An Earl Grey variation using caffeine-free rooibos tea with bergamot oil.
Russian Earl Grey
Earl Grey with citrus peel mixed in.
Earl Grey Green
A bergamot-flavored green tea.
EARL GREY TIPS
Loose tea will result in a better quality cup of tea than tea bags.
For a stronger cup of tea, add a 1/2 teaspoon more tea rather than steeping longer. Overstepping can make tea bitter.
How to Properly Store Tea
Use an airtight container or tea caddy to store both loose leaf tea and tea bags. This will help keep your tea dry and fresh.
More Afternoon Tea Ideas
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- 1 cup water, plus more for the teapot
- 1 teaspoons loose Earl Grey tea
- Boil water: If using an electric kettle with temperature setting, set it to 208°F. Boil a little more water than needed so that it can be used to warm up the teapot. Filtered water is best.
- Warm up teapot: Pour some hot water into a teapot and swirl it around a bit. Discard the water.
- Put Earl Grey tea into teapot and add hot water.
- Cover teapot and steep for 3 to 5 minutes. I prefer 4 minutes.
- Strain Earl Grey leaves and pour hot tea into a teacup.
- Add milk and sugar or lemon if you wish.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 1 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 0Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 9mgCarbohydrates: 0gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 0g