You’ve probably been introduced to the different types of Camellia sinensis teas — the “true teas,” as they are popularly called. But did you know that because these basic drinks are so versatile, they’ve often been infused with other types of flavors to heighten tea lovers’ experience?
One very popular example is Earl Grey tea. Whether you’re British or not, you’ve probably had a sip of this brew. But what exactly is Earl Grey tea and how did it came to be one of the most famous flavored teas today?
The name “Earl Grey” came from Charles Grey of England, the second Earl Grey, who, before his death in 1845,1 served as the country’s Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834.2 Grey had numerous accomplishments during his term, such as abolishing slavery through the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.3 However, he became most well-known for being the namesake of this tea.4
The exact reason why the tea was named for Grey was virtually unknown, although there have been several theories that abound. One popular story is that a man working for the Earl was said to have saved a Chinese boy from drowning. As a sign of gratitude, the boy’s father presented the Earl with a special blend he called Earl Grey tea.5 In other stories, however, it was said that the life saved was that of a Chinese government official, who then gave the earl the citrus-flavored tea.6
Contrary to popular belief, Earl Grey tea is not an herbal brew. Rather, it is simply traditional black tea infused with the flavors of bergamot orange.7 Earl Grey has a bright, refreshing and bold citrusy flavor.8 While most blends use bergamot oil made from the peel for the citrus flavor,9 you can also use the dried peel, directly mixing it in the tea.10
Earl Grey tea can come in loose leaf form or in teabags. Some manufacturers also add extra blends to their Earl Grey tea, such as lavender and vanilla. Whichever form you choose, make sure that you’re getting organic Earl Grey tea that has been grown in pristine environments and is free of pesticides and other contaminants.
Earl Grey tea is not just loved for its soothing taste, but also for the potential benefits it offers, which include helping:
- Improve your mood and aids in stress relief — Bergamot has antidepressant and relaxant properties,11 which make it helpful in easing stress, anxiety and depression.12 Drinking this tea may also stabilize your mood, making it helpful for people who often have strong mood swings.13
- Maintain healthy cholesterol levels — According to the Cleveland Clinic, bergamot may help boost good cholesterol levels, remove fatty deposits in the liver and lower blood sugar levels.14 A study published in the 2013 issue of International Journal of Cardiology journal found that participants who took bergamot extract for a month dropped their cholesterol levels from an average of 278 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL) to just 191 mg/dL.
- Keep the immune system healthy — The antioxidants that bergamot offers may help target and eliminate free radicals,15 as well as help fight against infection and manage acute and chronic conditions.16
- Support heart health — Black tea has been linked to lowered triglyceride levels in the body, which may help protect against stroke, heart attack and atherosclerosis.17
One question that many people ask is, “does Earl Grey tea have caffeine?” The answer is yes, it does. Earl Grey tea is made from black tea, which is produced by fully fermenting the tea leaves — this is what’s responsible for the high levels of caffeine in the tea.18
However, not all Earl Grey brands have the same level of caffeine, as there are many factors that can affect the caffeine levels, such as how the plant was processed and the method of brewing beverage. Generally, most cups have anywhere between 55 to 90 milligrams of caffeine per cup. Decaffeinated Earl Grey tea, on the other hand, may only have 2 to 10 milligrams in every cup.19
Earl Grey is a popular brunch or afternoon tea and pairs well with pastries like Madeleine cakes and scones. If you want to learn how to make your own Earl Grey tea at home instead of buying a ready-to-brew tea, here’s an easy recipe for you to follow:20
Orange Bergamot Tea Recipe
- 1 fresh bergamot orange
- Loose leaf black tea
- Clean the bergamot orange and remove the peel into small strands. Dry them either by using heat or air drying (may take anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours). You can also use a dehydrator.
- Place the peel in a jar of loose black tea leaves, in a tightly sealed container, and leave for a few days to infuse. The tea will absorb the flavor of the peel.
- Taste the tea. You may need to experiment to find out the ideal peel-to-tea ratio that suits your taste.
You can use the recipe above as a base and then infuse it with other flavors. Earl Grey tea latte is also popular, but take note that adding milk can diminish the potency of some of tea’s antioxidants. It’s best to keep it simple by adding just a bit of lemon juice or some honey.
There are different factors that can affect the shelf life of Earl Grey and other teas, and one very important example is making sure to store it properly. Ideally, place the tea in a cool, dark place, away from moisture, heat and light, all of which can degrade the tea.
There is no need to refrigerate tea — rather, it’s best placed at room temperature, anywhere between 60 and 80 degrees F. Place it in a tightly sealed container that will keep out oxygen, as this can oxidize the tea as well. Finally, keep the tea away from coffee, spices or other elements in your pantry with a pungent odor.21
The side effects of Earl Grey are mostly attributed to its caffeine content, and may include restlessness, muscle tremors, heart palpitations (fast heartbeat) and inability to sleep.22 If you’re very sensitive to caffeine, you may feel these effects even with a small sip, so it’s best to avoid Earl Grey tea or opt for the decaffeinated variety. Drinking Earl Grey is also ill-advised during pregnancy, as it may affect your health or the baby.23
In addition, bergamot oil may also impart other health effects. This is because it contains a toxin called bergapten, which can affect potassium absorption in certain neurons,24 leading to effects such as:25
- Muscle twitches
- Cramps in the hands and legs
- Blurry vision
Bergamot oil may contain chemicals that can make you more susceptible to sunburn, causing increased photosensitivity, so remember this before drinking Earl Grey tea.26
Todd Chatterton, director of coffee and tea at New York’s Eleven Madison Park, describes Earl Grey as “one of the most fundamental, approachable types of tea, representing an ‘anchoring point in tea culture,’ due to its mild, balanced taste.”27 Indeed, this is one elegant and soothing drink you must not miss out on, not just for its flavor but its health benefits as well.
However, take note that Earl Grey tea comes with certain side effects, mainly due to the caffeine and bergamot it contains. Listen to your body, and if you feel any of the symptoms mentioned above, take a break from drinking it or reduce your consumption.
Q: What is Earl Grey tea made from?
A: Earl Grey tea is basically black tea that is blended with bergamot oil made from the peel of the fruit. A simple way of making this tea is by directly mixing the peel with the brewed tea.
Q: What does Earl Grey tea taste like?
A: The flavor of Earl Grey is bright, refreshing and bold citrusy.
Q: Does Earl Grey tea have caffeine?
A: Yes, Earl Grey tea is caffeinated. Most brews have anywhere between 55 to 90 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per cup. If you are sensitive to caffeine, pregnant or breastfeeding, avoid Earl Grey tea or opt for decaffeinated varieties.
Q: What’s the best way to drink Earl Grey tea?
A: Earl grey tea can be enjoyed either hot or cold, plain, or with a squeeze of lemon and a bit of raw honey for sweetness. Avoid adding milk, as this may destroy some of the tea’s antioxidants.
Q: Is Earl Grey tea gluten-free?
A: Teas made from single ingredients like black tea, green tea or oolong tea, especially in loose leaf form, are usually gluten-free, but tea blends like Earl Grey may contain ingredients that might be contaminated with gluten. There are also tea bags that use a paste made of wheat to seal their contents. It’s best to check the label or ask the manufacturer directly if their product is gluten-free.28