Don’t tell me home doesn’t have a taste: there’s a whole lifestyle/cooking/publishing industry that says it does—not to mention two dogs that lick my kitchen floor with gusto.
But exactly what does Earl Grey tea taste like? Grab a cuppa and I’ll explain.
What is Earl Grey?
First, let’s talk about what Earl Grey is. It is so familiar that we don’t need the word “tea.” Using the “tea” isn’t redundant, like saying “chai tea” or “ATM machine,” but even non-tea drinkers have heard the name and know it more likely refers to the brown beverage than the British nobleman for whom the beverage was presumably named.
Earl Grey is tea flavored with bergamot oil. Traditionally, the base was black tea, but nowadays the Earl Grey name is used with green, rooibos, and honeybush teas, as well. Plum Deluxe doesn’t name them “Earl Grey,” but you’ll find the Queen’s Blend Green and Healthy, Wealthy, & Wise Herbal teas listed with five black teas if you search for “Earl Grey.”
Bergamot features in all seven teas. It’s the bergamot flavor that defines Earl Grey.
So What’s Bergamot?
Bergamot is a small citrus tree (Citrus bergamia) grown in the Mediterranean, most notably in southern Italy. Bergamot oranges are actually green or yellow, depending on ripeness, and genetic research suggests they are a cross between lemons and bitter oranges. Their taste is sometimes compared to Meyer lemons.
Aromatic bergamot oil is extracted from the rind of the fruit and used as a scent in perfumes and a flavor in comestibles, including tea. Some people credit it with health benefits, as well.
Bergamot flavor is citric and herbal with a hint of floral.
What Does Earl Grey Tea Taste Like?
When made with a black tea base, Earl Grey starts with a deep, robust flavor accented by the refreshing citrus of bergamot—more lemony than orange, my 10,000ish taste buds say. It reminds me of Froot Loops, but it’s way-yonder better for me.
Some tea lovers add milk and sugar (See? Breakfast cereal!), others prefer lemon and sugar. I drink mine plain.
Earl Grey tea is one of the most popular teas in western countries. It’s certainly popular with me and my tea-drinking friends. The citrus-floral aroma and smooth taste are inviting.
For me, it was the “gateway drug” into the wide world of tea, the beginning of a long adventure into the endless flavors of black, pu’erh, oolong, green, white, and herbal teas. Years later, I drink it as a ceremonial start to big projects.
In addition to a distinct flavor, Earl Grey has a wonderful scent to match. Your sense of smell is said to be responsible for 80% of taste. That’s why taste is dulled when we have a cold: our noses are blocked and unable to participate in the sensory smorgasbord. Smell is also tightly linked with memory.
The bergamot aroma takes me back to when my now-deceased father introduced me to Earl Grey tea. I was working a temp job after college, and he would make a pot of tea when I arrived home in the afternoon, worn out, wondering where I should point my life. We talked as I unwound. I felt almost grown up, maybe for the first time. It’s no wonder the distinctive smell and taste of Earl Grey take me home.
Earl Grey Blends
One of the remarkable things about Earl Grey—and a big part of why it’s so popular, I suspect—is how well it blends with other flavors.
Currently, Plum Deluxe has seven full-time blends with bergamot oil that land them in the Earl Grey family. Exciting part-time blends come and go during Earl Grey month and as part of other temporary collections, so if you’re a fan, nab those when you can.
I’ve tasted every one of the full-time Earl Greys, and my favorite is Queen's Blend—er, maybe Delightful Morning! No, right now it’s Crème Brulee, perhaps?
You know, favorites change. Actually, I think it’s Mindful Morning. Wait, what am I drinking right now? Picard Black Tea Blend. Mmm, it’s got that deep, smooth black-bergamot flavor plus sweet-nutty pecans. Yep, this is my favorite. But here I invoke Dad’s mantra: I reserve the right to change my mind.