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.