Ask about the tea options at virtually any breakfast restaurant, and Earl Grey is liable to be on the list.
This ubiquitous beverage is popular around the globe thanks to its approachable flavor, which it gets from a combination of black tea and citrus-y bergamot oil. Earl Grey’s orangey, floral notes make for a tasty and drinkable brew — even among people who tend not to love tea.
Another reason Earl Grey is so popular? There’s so much variation within this tea category that it’s all but guaranteed to offer something for every taste bud.
In fact, we’d go so far as to say Earl Grey black tea is one of the most interesting and broad-ranging types of tea around.
If you’re looking to take your knowledge of Earl Grey to the next level, read on to learn what Earl Grey is, how to choose a quality Earl Grey (tea bags, loose leaf tea, or otherwise), and a roundup of some of the best Earl Grey teas that money can buy.
What Is Earl Grey Tea?
Legend has it that Earl Grey tea is named after Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl of Grey and a historical UK politician who served from 1830 to 1834. (1) During his time in political office, Grey helped reform the electoral system and abolish slavery throughout the British Empire.
While abolishing slavery is no doubt a greater claim to fame than loving tea, the story goes that Charles Grey was once gifted a tea that was flavored with bergamot oil. He loved it so much that he asked British tea merchants (namely Twining’s, which still exists today) to recreate the brew.
They obliged, and named it after him.
The tea quickly became popular in Britain and then spread to the U.S. during the industrial revolution. And people the world over have been drinking Earl Grey (the tea, not the man) ever since.
In another origin story, one of Lord Grey’s men had saved the son of a Chinese mandarin man, and in gratitude, the man presented the blend to Grey. However, this is probably apocryphal, as Grey had never set foot in China.
While there’s some debate over the historical accuracy of Earl Grey tea’s origin story, one thing is clear: Nearly 200 years after Charles Grey purportedly first drank it, people still love the stuff.
Types of Earl Grey Tea
Earl Grey tea may be especially popular because it tastes great hot or cold and tends to have a highly approachable flavor.
This tea blend is most commonly made from black tea (or a blend of black teas) and then flavored with bergamot oil, which lends the floral, citrus-y taste that makes Earl Grey tea very drinkable. (2) Bergamot is an aromatic citrus fruit that grows naturally in the Mediterranean. (3)
That said, there’s a surprising amount of variation underneath the umbrella of “Earl Grey.”
In addition to bergamot, Earl Grey might also be flavored with everything from rose petals or lavender to blue cornflowers. Sometimes, tea makers will even flavor a green or white tea with bergamot oil and dub that brew an Earl Grey.
Here are some of the most common variations on Earl Grey (4):
- Decaf Earl Grey
- Earl Green, which is a green tea that’s flavored with bergamot
- Earl Grey Oolong, which is oolong tea combined with bergamot oil
- French Earl Grey, which (depending on who you consult) includes rose petals or lavender flowers
- Lady Grey, which blends Earl Grey tea with the blossoms of blue cornflowers
- Red Earl Grey (aka Earl Red or Earl Rooibos), which mixes rooibos tea with bergamot flavor
- Russian Earl Grey, which mixes pieces of citrus peel directly into Earl Grey tea
Earl Grey is also a popular base for drinks such as the London Fog (Earl Grey tea, milk, vanilla extract, and sugar) and the Creamy Earl Grey Coconut Rum Punch.
Benefits of Earl Grey Tea
Because it’s most commonly made from black tea, Earl Grey tea may offer many of the same benefits of plain black tea.
While research into the benefits of tea is still ongoing, studies suggest black tea may support cardiovascular health, is high in antioxidant properties, and may support anti-inflammatory processes. (5)(6)
Additionally, black tea contains caffeine — so Earl Grey tends to have an energizing effect.
How to Choose the Best Earl Grey Tea
Because “Earl Grey” can mean so many different things, it can be tough to know where to begin your tasting adventures. Here are a few tips to narrow down the search for the best Earl Grey tea for your taste buds.
Check the tea source.
Most tea aficionados agree that the highest quality black teas are produced on the island of Ceylon (which is part of Sri Lanka) and in Assam and Darjeeling, which are both regions in India. (7) Thus, it’s a good idea to look for Earl Grey teas that are made with Assam, Ceylon, or Darjeeling black tea.
Of course, that’s not to say the only decent Earl Greys come from these regions. But if you’re trying to narrow down your search, looking for tea that’s sourced from these areas can be a helpful place to start.
Consider the bergamot source.
The black tea used in any Earl Grey will have the most impact on flavor and overall quality, but you might also want to consider where and how the bergamot oil was sourced.
Some tea sellers use synthetic bergamot oil, while others opt for the real deal. (8) For the best taste, look for Earl Grey teas that are flavored with natural oil from real bergamot fruits. And if you have concerns about artificial flavorings, that’s another reason to stick to teas that use natural flavor.
Determine your flavor preferences.
There is no singular “best” Earl Grey tea flavor, because everyone has different taste buds. So finding the right flavor for you may involve some trial and error.
As noted above, natural bergamot oil will likely taste better than synthetic options.
To narrow down your choices even more, think about whether you prefer a fruitier or “sharper” flavor profile. In the former case, opt for teas that are flavored with bergamot oil, which is sourced from the peel of the bergamot fruit. If you prefer a sharper brew, look for Earl Greys that mix dried bergamot peels directly into the tea. (9)
Research suggests organic foods and beverages tend to contain higher levels of nutrients and minimize exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. (10) And, of course, organic options tend to be kinder to the environment.
For these reasons, you may want to limit your search to organic Earl Grey teas. Look for the USDA organic symbol for confidence that a particular tea was produced according to strong organic standards.
Be willing to experiment.
As noted above, there are tons of Earl Grey varieties and flavor options. What’s more, the taste of Earl Grey varies depending on where the black tea was grown and whether a brand uses synthetic or natural bergamot oil or peels. The flavor can also change dramatically if other ingredients are added.
Because there’s so much variation, it’s important to keep an open mind about Earl Grey tea. Even if you don’t like one brew, that doesn’t mean you won’t love another. So be willing to experiment until you’ve found the right source and flavor to suit your personal preferences.
Ready to narrow down your search even more? Take these guidelines into account, and then pick a few options from the following list of some of the best Earl Grey teas on the market.
The 8 Best Earl Grey Tea Blends and Brands
There are a ton of great Earl Grey teas out there. Here are a few stellar options to wet your whistle:
- Pique Tea: Organic Earl Grey
- Art of Tea: Earl Grey Tea
- Camellia Sinensis: Earl Grey
- Davidson’s Organics: Earl Grey (Loose Leaf)
- In Pursuit of Tea: Darjeeling Earl Grey
- Numi Organic Tea: Aged Earl Grey
- Sloane: Earl Grey Classic
- Twining’s: Earl Grey
Pardon us while we toot our own horn: We’re confident that our Earl Grey tea is one of the best. Our USDA Organic brew is made from Ceylon black tea and natural oil of bergamot to create a smooth black tea with a hint of citrus. It contains slightly less caffeine than some Earl Greys, which means you can enjoy a quick energy boost without the jitters.
It’s also packed with vitalizing antioxidants. And of course, our tea is free of artificial flavors, preservatives, and sugar. Instead of a loose tea, it comes in the form of tea crystals, which are convenient for anytime, but especially while traveling.
The black tea used in this Earl Grey is organically grown and hand-harvested in Sri Lanka. After harvesting, the leaves are blended with natural oil of bergamot to create a bold citrus flavor with floral notes. The premium ingredients and careful attention to detail help explain why this Earl Grey won the category of Best Black Tea at the World Tea Expo. (11)
This tea company is named after the Camellia Sinensis plant, which is the origin of all “true” teas (e.g. black, green, and white teas). In the case of their Earl Grey, that plant is organically grown and harvested beneath the Indian Himalayas in Dooars, India. Meanwhile, the natural bergamot oil is extracted from organic, Italian-grown bergamot. Together, these quality ingredients make for a slightly malty, flavorful brew. (12)
Citrus undertones meet floral top notes in this organic Earl Grey. The brew starts with a base of full-bodied black tea sourced from family tea gardens in both the Assam and Darjeeling regions of India. This high-quality black tea gets blended with natural oil of bergamot to create a layered and citrus-y brew. (13)
If you’re looking to treat yourself to something fancy, look no further than this limited-edition, single-estate Earl Grey. The black tea is sourced from the Darjeeling region of India and then hand-scented with organic bergamot oil from Italy. The company only uses the rind of the bergamot to create the oil, which produces a smooth, citrus-y flavor. Meanwhile, the black tea boasts cocoa undertones that, when mixed with the bergamot oil, create a warm, slightly spicy, and robust flavor. (14)
Here’s one for those who prefer a more subtle hint of citrus in their Earl Grey. The black tea used in this organic and Fair Trade Earl Grey is sourced from the Assam region of India, while the bergamot oil hails from real Italian bergamots. The tea leaves are aged with the bergamot so that the leaves gradually absorb the orange aroma and flavor. The end result is a robust black tea with subtle citrus notes. (15)
This tea lives up to its fancy packaging. It’s made from a blend of black teas grown in both Ceylon and the Assam region of India. These tea leaves are then hand-blended with natural, Italian oil of bergamot to create an aromatic, smooth, and medium-bodied brew with citrus notes that linger after each sip. If you opt for the sachet collection box, you can enjoy your tea out of biodegradable pyramid sachets. (16)
Okay, so Twining’s may not be the most refined option on this list (and it also uses flavorings of an unclear origin). But the originators of Earl Grey tea deserve a spot on any Earl Grey roundup. If you want to enjoy a brew with generations of tea-drinking history behind it, then give this blend a try. The fragrant beverage boasts a strong citrus flavor. (17)
The Bottom Line on Earl Grey Tea
Earl Grey tea is one of the most popular teas around, and for good reason: a cup of earl grey is bold, flavorful, and endlessly drinkable. It provides an energy boost thanks to the caffeine that’s found naturally in black tea, and it may offer additional wellness benefits.
To find the best Earl Grey tea for you, look for products that are made from high-quality black tea and real oil of bergamot. After that, it mostly comes down to personal taste preferences.
There’s a huge range of Earl Grey teas and flavorings to choose from, so there’s no time to waste: It’s time to start sipping your way through the world of Earl Grey!