Earl Grey tea owes its unique flavor to bergamot, a type of citrus extract. This citrus flavor was originally used to help mask the flavor of lower-quality teas made from water with a high volume of limescale.
Bergamot is a citrus extract or essential oil that is sprayed on a black tea base like Earl Grey tea to improve its flavor. Along with hiding the flavor of limescale in English tea, bergamot extract was also used to make lower-quality tea blends smell more like expensive ones.
Bergamot has been a part of Earl Grey tea for centuries, but modern science has uncovered some unexpected health benefits to go along with its distinctive flavor. Keep reading to learn more about the bergamot in Earl Grey tea and how it makes this type of tea blend special.
What Is Bergamot?
Bergamot, or citrus bergamia, is a bitter, fragrant extract or oil derived from a dwarf cultivar of Seville oranges. Unlike the sweet oranges grown for eating, bergamot oranges are a bitter and sour variety of orange that is most likely a hybrid between lemons and bitter oranges.
These sour citrus fruits are about the size of an orange.
Where Is Bergamot Grown?
Bergamot oranges, a type of citrus fruit, are grown in a specific province of southern Italy known as Reggio di Calabria. Along with the bergamot oranges grown in southern Italy, these oranges are also grown internationally in the following regions:
- Southeast Asia
- Ivory Coast, Africa
Bergamot is grown in different areas according to the product it’s been grown to produce. On the Ivory Coast and in France, the oranges are grown for their essential oils. In Turkey, bergamot oranges are grown to make orange marmalade and Turkish delight.
What Does Bergamot Smell Like?
Bergamot has bright citrus notes with a light floral note that is used in many high-end luxury fragrances that are included in perfumes and candles. Bergamot has been used in perfumes going back to the early 1700s, and it is still included in many major fragrance lines today.
In Earl Grey tea, bergamot is used for its fragrance as well as the flavor it imparts to black tea. Bergamot is known for having a more complex and alluring scent than other types of citrus.
What Does Bergamot Taste Like?
Bergamot has a strong citrus flavor that is a combination of bitter orange and lemon. The flavor of bergamot is so bitter that it is typically not ingested on its own. Instead, the rind of the bergamot fruit is the source of the essential oil used in perfumes, candy, and tea.
Is Bee Balm the Same as Bergamot?
Bee balm is an herb that is consumed in tea blends and has a similar flavor to bergamot, but it doesn’t come from the same plant. The confusion comes from the fact that bee balm is sometimes referred to as bergamot or wild bergamot because of its fragrance.
Even though bee balm and true bergamot come from different plants, they’re both popular in tea for their taste and fragrance. Bee balm and bergamot are also both used to treat digestive issues in tea blends.
Can Bergamot Be Grown at Home?
While bergamot can be grown in some climates, this citrus tree can be difficult to grow in many zones. Bergamot trees will only thrive in tropical or subtropical climates. Bergamot can be grown from either cuttings or from seed.
For bergamot fragrance in homemade tea blends, it’s easier to use a bergamot essential oil and bergamot rinds. Another option is to add dried bee balm to a black tea blend for a similar fragrance and flavor. Bee balm is much easier to grow in the home garden than bergamot trees for most growing zones.
Health Benefits of Bergamot in Earl Grey Tea
Bergamot is credited with having several health benefits when consumed in tea as part of a regular diet. The main health advantage that bergamot contributes to in Earl Grey tea is lowered cholesterol levels which can improve heart disease, but drinking Earl Grey tea is also associated with the following:
- Digestive improvement: The flavonoids in Earl Grey tea and bergamot can fight digestive inflammation, and the theaflavins present in the tea can generally improve digestion.
- Lowers LDL cholesterol: A study by the University of Calabria showed that oil of bergamot lowered cholesterol in lab animals.
- Reduced tension and anxiety: Although research on the subject is limited, bergamot oil has been shown to reduce anxiety-related behaviors in laboratory mice. (Source: The National Library of Medicine)
- Immune System Boost: Like all citrus, bergamot is high in vitamin C, which can fight the free radicals that can cause cell damage to reduce oxidative stress.
While Earl Grey tea might not typically be used as a medicinal tea like some herbal tea blends, there’s no denying that you may end up feeling better on multiple levels after drinking it.
Bergamot and Earl Grey Tea
Bergamot is a major component in Earl Grey tea and its variations. These are a few of the variations on Earl Grey Tea that also contain bergamot:
- London Fog: London Fog tea is a variation on Earl Grey tea that is flavored with bergamot, lavender, hot milk, and vanilla syrup.
- Lady Grey Tea: Lady Grey tea blend is similar to Earl Grey, but it also contains cornflowers and additional Seville oranges for a stronger citrus flavor.
- Earl Green and Earl White: Earl Green and Earl White are versions of the Earl Grey tea blend made with green tea and white tea rather than black tea.
No matter which variation of Earl Grey tea that you drink, bergamot is what gives this cup of tea its distinctive flavor profile.
Who was Earl Grey Tea Named For?
It was commonly believed that the Earl Grey blend was named for Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl of Grey, who served as British prime minister from 1830 to 1834. The Grey family was massive as Lord Grey and his wife had 16 children, so they probably drank a lot of tea!
How Long Has Bergamot Been Added to Earl Grey Tea?
Bergamot has been added to Earl Grey tea since 1824. This makes Earl Grey tea almost two centuries old.
How Does Bergamot Flavor Earl Grey Tea?
The addition of bergamot oil is used to flavor Earl Grey tea in two primary ways:
- Spray: When Earl Grey tea is made using the spray method, the bergamot essential oil is sprayed directly on a base of black tea leaves during the drying process.
- Rinds: Some Earl Grey tea is made by blending the dried rind of the bergamot orange with the dried tea leaves.
In 2011, Twinings, the company that owns the Earl Grey tea recipe, decided to change the recipe by adding more bergamot. While the change in bergamot flavor was not favored by many British consumers, the change has stuck around for more than a decade.
Does Earl Grey Tea Have Caffeine?
The caffeine content of a cup of Earl Grey tea is similar to that of black tea, or about 47 mg per 8 oz cup.
How to Serve Earl Grey Tea
Bergamot has a natural citrus flavor, so a lemon slice is a good garnish to serve with Earl Grey tea. Sugar is usually used to help offset the bitterness of the black tea. Many people also enjoy taking Earl Grey tea with milk to soften its flavor. (Source: Quintessential)
Along with drinking Earl Grey tea, this bergamot-based blend can also be used in baking. Earl Grey is a popular flavoring for cookies and cakes, and the tea can be reduced with sugar to form a syrup for flavoring baked goods.
Whether you make your tea with a tea bag or loose leaf tea, the first time this tea steeps, tea lovers will enjoy the fragrant citrus fruit scent of this obscure fruit.
Bergamot Gives Earl Grey Tea Its Iconic Flavor
Many people who drink Earl Grey tea may not know where it gets its flavor, but bergamot is the reason Earl Grey tea is one of the most popular tea blends in the world. Often imitated, but never duplicated, this famous bergamot-flavored tea recipe is one of England’s most delicious exports.
Delicious when paired with sweet snacks for tea, this citrusy tea goes well with sweet treats like chai cinnamon rolls or matcha snickerdoodles.
So next time you’re looking for the perfect tea, why not give this popular tea flavored with citrus bergamot a try?