What Makes Earl Grey Special?
Jean-Luc Picard’s favourite tea, Earl Grey is a classic consisting of various black teas and bergamot orange oil, resulting in an aromatic cup steaming with citrus-y floral notes. Its distinctive taste makes it well-suited for cocktail syrups, cakes, cookies, and it also pairs nicely with tea cakes. However, those same pleasant citrus and floral notes are often used as a top/head note in perfumes, and if you don’t brew this tea correctly, you’ll think that’s what you’re drinking. Keep reading for tips to avoid that experience.
As for the tea’s origins, Jacksons of Piccadilly stakes claims, while Twinings (who incidentally now owns Jacksons of Piccadilly) suggests on their website that the second Earl Grey, Charles, brought the recipe from China and asked Richard Twining to prepare it.
No two Earl Grey teas taste the same, and that’s because different companies use any variety of black teas as the base—from Ceylon to Assam. In the case of Ahmad Tea’s Earl Grey, the leaves hail from Sri Lanka, Malawi, and Kenya. Twinings doesn’t get specific about their black teas.
The taste of the tea also depends on what form of bergamot they use–some use oil derived from the orange, but I’ve also seen bags with the dried peels mixed in with the tea leaves. The papery packet of the Twinings, for instance, only mentions using “natural citrus flavours with other natural flavours.” Vague enough.
Method 1–How to Prepare Earl Grey Tea Using a Filter Bag:
We’ll start with the Twinings brand of Earl Grey. While they do sell loose-leafed tea, all I have in my cupboard are the filter bags. Twinings says to let steep for 3 minutes, and I’d agree. You definitely don’t want to forget about this one, because it’s not as forgiving as English Breakfast. If you over brew (or squeeze the bag) it tastes a pleasant as eating orange peel potpourri.
Method 2–How to Prepare Earl Grey with Loose Tea Leaves:
While on our Atlanta trip a while back, we happened upon a little shop near Go Vegetarian that sold this adorable tin of Ahmad Tea. I was attracted to the tin and the $3.99 price tag and didn’t want to leave that cute little shop empty handed. Plus, as I’ve hinted in the other posts in this series, with just a few exceptions, most filter bags aren’t environmentally friendly, because most contain polypropylene. That’s why I was excited to try my hand (and build my confidence) at loose-leaf tea prep.
When I got home eager to try the new tea, I was super disappointed. Because the tin only gives steeping times and no measurements, I consulted the interwebs, and the brew was gross! I’m sure now that I used too much, steeped it too long, and amended it all wrong. But you get to learn from my mistakes!
On the website, Ahmad Tea suggests brewing in the pot, measuring 1-2 teaspoons of tea per person (depending on desired strength). I didn’t look at their website until recently, though, and I tend to make tea a cup at a time, so I’ve had to experiment. For a perfect brew in a 4-oz teacup, I suggest measuring 1/2 tablespoon. 1 tablespoon is way too much and results in chalky perfume, and any less, to me, isn’t flavorful enough.
The tin suggests that we infuse the brew for 5-7 minutes, but I’d suggest no more than 5 minutes. You have several options for this part. You can go Professor Trelawney on it and throw the leaves in the cup or use any number of cutesy infusers. I prefer using a sieve for the little tea cups.
While the colors end up vastly different here, remember that these are two different brands of tea as well–they’re likely composed of teas from different regions (hence the color differences).
Which is better? They’re both wonderfully tasted when brewed and sweetened correctly. As for me, I’ll keep buying whichever I can get my hands on, especially since Twinings offers loose-leaf tea, too. (And that’s what I’ll be buying once we use up what we’ve got!)
The Great Lemon vs Milk Debates
While some people drink this tea plain, most seem to add lemon to accentuate the natural citrus component of this tea. And after trying with my usual creamer and then lemon, I have to say there’s a reason the lemon addition is so popular. Hands down, my fave cups were the ones with lemon and honey or lemon and sugar. The ones with creamer were washed out. It’s likely that just a spot of plain almond milk might work, though. No matter what I add, I almost always eat it with cake. Even for breakfast!
How do you take your Earl Grey?