Here’s Why Earl Grey Is Different from Every Other Tea

While tea time is a uniquely British experience, it also has been popular in the States ever since Boston harbor was turned into a giant teapot. And while some of us are in tune with the subtle differences between the wide variety of teas available at our local grocery stores, there are others who can’t tell the difference between Ceylon and Sleepytime. So let’s begin our collective tea journey with a dip into the history and flavor of Earl Grey tea.

Is Earl Grey black tea?

Let’s start by answering the question of what is black tea. There are different classifications of tea based on how long the leaves are permitted to wilt and oxidize once they are picked. These are white, yellow, green, oolong, and black, with white being completely unoxidized to black being fully oxidized. 

Oxidation is one of several factors that influence the flavor of a tea, but a general rule of thumb is the more oxidation that happens, the stronger the flavor of the tea. A white tea will have a much lighter flavor than a black tea, which is full-bodied and somewhat bitter. So, is Earl Grey a black tea?

Yes—but it’s more complicated than that.

What is Earl Grey tea?

In the tea world, Earl Grey tea is something called a blend. Blends one of the aforementioned base teas enhanced with some other kind of flavor. In the case of Earl Grey, black tea is blended with bergamot oil. Bergamot is a citrus fruit that tastes somewhere between a lemon and an orange.

Why did that happen in the first place? Well, tea became extremely popular in England after their dogged pursuit of imperialism and lines were drawn between “good” teas and “bad” teas. The rich got the good stuff and us poories got the bad stuff. To make it more palatable, the “bad” tea was enhanced with bergamot oil or something similar to help it taste closer to the good stuff. 

best earl grey tea

Best Earl Grey Tea

What’s the best Earl Grey tea? We tasted a bunch of the top brands on the market to find the best Earl Grey tea for your tea time.

Ironically, while it was once looked down upon by the upper class, Earl Grey is now considered a posh tea choice. Just like lobster or escargot.

What does Earl Grey taste like?

Earl Grey tea is dark and earthy and tannic (like most black tea) with beautiful floral notes and a touch of citrus. It’s often described as being a little bit fruity. In fact, many tea drinkers liken the flavor or aroma to Fruit Loops

Does Earl Grey tea have caffeine?

Yes, there is caffeine in Earl Grey tea. There are a lot of factors that go into the amount of caffeine that appears in the different categories of tea, from its brewing time and temperature to the way in which the leaves are processed. In general, black tea has the highest amount of caffeine in it, anywhere from 64 mg-112 mg per 8 ounces. Since Earl Grey is black tea-based, it’s on the higher end of the caffeine scale.

This makes it a great morning tea option but if you’re sensitive to caffeine, you may want to make another choice for 3 p.m. tea time.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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