Tuesday, 27 July 2010

If the Chinese wouldn't drink it

Lately there's been a bit of talk about Earl Grey among friends on twitter, and I've mentioned here a few times that I see this blend as a gateway tea. Something many people start out drinking, but eventually the Bergamot oil becomes intolerable, and they find other (less perfumed) teas.

As much as we tea people seem to have lukewarm to even virulent aversion to this tea, it seems to be ever present in any shop I go into. Supposedly, it's one of the best selling teas on the market. Looked it up in Pratt's The Tea Lover's Treasury, and he was kinder about this subject than many of us are. Not much kinder, but kinder nonetheless. Here's what he says on the subject:

To me, however, the real mystery about Earl Grey is why everyone seems to like it. Not that I actively dislike the stuff, mind you-it has its place and gives its pleasure too-but I find it exactly analogous to Lancer's Crackling Rose wine from Portugal: Nice enough now and then but how'd it get to be the best-selling imported wine in America? That's the same status Earl Grey enjoys among specialty teas...(p.125).

Then he goes on to say that if one uses too much Bergamot oil, the tea can easily make it taste of 'cheap perfumed soap and the ability to anaesthetize the roof of your mouth and the back of your throat'. Sounds delightful, right? He does say that if you get the balance of tea to oil right it can produce a 'well-mannered, mild-flavored tea with a very distinctive, yet delicate scent.'

Not everyone moves on to non-perfumed teas. This stuff sells really well in parts of the world. I did find it funny that Pratt explains the history of the blend, and concedes that although the Chinese introduced the Earl of Grey to the recipe but that they themselves were never, in fact, Earl Grey drinkers themselves. I think if I were in his position and they offered me the possibility to drink this mix of black teas soaked in Bergamot oil that they themselves wanted nothing to do with, I'd probably have passed.

If the Chinese wouldn't drink it, that must've said something.


  1. Yes, the Chinese is probably right. But the mystery remains, why is the taste of Earl Grey so popular? Why is it a "start kit" to the world of tea?


  2. I think it is because it is a name that so many people are familiar with even if they do not know tea.
    It is one of the oldest scented teas on record and people have been drinking it for centuries.
    It just has its roots in the tea world.
    The Duke of Earl had a strange palate I think.

  3. I don't think that Chinese are the ultimate when it comes to tea tastes.
    And I know why it is popular, I just learned that it could (since I did not double check this info) be the favourite tea of Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

    And it also seems it has nothing to do with China as the Duke of Grey (sorry Sir William of the Leaf but Earl is his title) never went there, it is made with Indian and Sri-Lanka black teas and the use of bergamot oil to scent tea was then unknown in China..

    As for the taste, it is not that bad provided you don't let it too long in your water.
    Did anyone ever try the "London Fog" (a combination of Earl Grey, steamed milk and vanilla syrup)?

  4. Earl Grey is so popular because it is a good tea. Like any other tea, one must, 'get the good stuff'. A great Earl Grey is Earl Grey de la Creme, an Earl with a hint of vanilla. Not only does this tea taste great, but it is good for you and in different ways then other teas due to the citrus in the tea. Both the cent and the flavor are uplifting.Yes, I love Earl Grey tea and I am not ashamed to admit it.
    My name is Melissa, I write about tea and I love Earl Grey.

  5. Thanks Melissa. I've actually been rather surprised at the venomous dislike some have for this tea.

    My immediate response to what you say is that I used to drink Earl Grey, and liked it a lot. It's possible that I've been drinking subpar tea and improving the quality of tea will improve the experience.

    It's also possible that it's just not my taste anymore. I am happy you came here and weighed in. Your comments are certainly welcome.