Hot and cold Earl Gray in a nutshell
The cold version has a soft green color and crystal transparency, the warm one – dark red to brown, depending on the duration of the infusion.
Everyday tea. Due to the bergamot oil, it has an antiseptic and sedative effect. Not to be used by people with low blood pressure.
Great Britain, popular in Western Europe
Aromas and flavors
Cold – nose with unobtrusive bergamot, ethereal grassy body, finish with pleasant citrus freshness.
Warm – in addition to bergamot, strong woody notes and a hint of smokiness are felt on the nose. The body is powerful, with pronounced tannins, on the finish – toast and light caramel.
With a green tea base – drying in the shade and adding bergamot oil, with a black base – classic fermentation, followed by mixing with bergamot skins.
Cold – 2 grams of the mixture is soaked in 250 ml of water for at least half an hour. The warm one – boiling water (100 degrees) is used, the infusion from 5 to 10 minutes depending on the desired intensity.
Most often in combination with milk (for the warm one) and with food, and for the warm one, the addition of sugar is desirable.
Although June never ceases to surprise us with its climatic tricks, summer is mercilessly coming and very soon we will find ourselves in its hot embrace. Last TEAsting we dedicated to the tea blends to overcome spring fatigue and strengthen our immunity. However, it is time for something refreshing. For this tasting, Adrian from Tea House Plovdiv suggested that we be traditionalists, paying due attention to the good old Earl Grey, placed on a pedestal in Great Britain.
Have you already felt the incomparable scent of bergamot?
The British Empire should be eternally grateful to the Italian region of Calabria, where 90% of the crop of this whimsical citrus is produced. Bergamot is a small fruit, a direct relative of the lime, and is unsuitable for eating raw due to its high acidity. The essential oil extracted from its bark makes it so famous not only in the culinary field, but also in the perfumery industry. In the world of tea, however, Earl Gray has “appropriated” it for himself.
Who actually invented this icon of English culture?
We can go in several ways, but we will hardly arrive at an unequivocal answer. One thing is certain – it was named after Lord Charles Gray II (1764 – 1845), British Prime Minister in the 1930s. The most popular of the legends tells how, during a diplomatic mission in China, one of the Prime Minister’s envoys heroically saved the life of a Chinese nobleman. In gratitude, he presents him with tea along with the secret recipe for its production. The messenger takes the expensive gift back to England, and the lord is captivated by its aroma. In a short time this new tea became so popular with Gray and his cronies that in 1831 he asked the Twinings firm to reproduce it and put it on the market for all the other subjects of the kingdom to enjoy. Thus, the prime minister’s hobby turns into a profitable business.
It is in order to mention some characteristics of bergamot oil. First of all, it has a strong antiseptic effect due to the linalool it contains, which makes it particularly effective for flu and colds. The oil also has a sedative effect, often used to treat depression, anxiety and stress by providing energy. This tea is not recommended for people with low blood pressure, as bergamot oil can lower it even more.
“The base material for Earl Gray comes from China and India, the Chinese prefer green tea as the base and the Indians prefer Assam, which is the most popular version worldwide. To like Earl Gray, you have to like bergamot, it’s not English a snack that is loved by the mass consumer. There are people who can’t stand that strong citrus scent and others who love it,” says Adrian.
According to him, in most classic recipes for Earl Gray flavoring is done by adding dried bergamot peels directly to the tea, in other cases only the oil is used. There are also more modern versions in which the Calabrian citrus fruit is replaced by its Seville cousin, the bitter orange (Citrus aurantium). In this case, however, the feeling of the tea is not so fresh and lemony, but rather Christmassy.
A very important question – with sugar or without?
“Earl Gray is generally offered for breakfast or with some type of food – biscuits, sandwiches. This has become a tradition over time. Classic teas are mostly drunk neat, while on the contrary – flavored teas suggest a combination with food. The English add sugar or honey , to quench its strong tannins, I also prefer it sweetened. Some boldly add milk to it, a matter of taste,” shares the expert’s observations.
Here I open a culinary staple that Earl Gray makes two wonderful sauces. For the sweet version, you boil the tea in milk, and then add eggs and sugar until thickened. The salty version is great in combination with roast pork. For it you will need shallots, orange juice, flour, maple syrup and mustard.
Adrian has brought a hearty supply of homemade biscuits and we joke that we’ll stick to English etiquette. His idea is to try two completely different versions of Earl Gray both in terms of origin and preparation method. One is based on Indian Assam black tea, flavored with pieces of bergamot bark (for it we apply a classic 5-minute infusion in boiling water), the basis of the second mixture is Chinese green tea with added bergamot oil (it will be poured with cold filtered water and there will be a long soak of over half an hour).
Our tea specialist specifies that the modern man most often resorts to the quick version of the so-called cold decoction. First, a one-minute hot infusion is made, which is shock-cooled with ice water.
“The slow method on the other hand is for people with patience or more free time. It can even be done at night before going to bed, the decoction stays overnight and in the morning you will have a wonderful iced tea. In this case there is an extraction of a very small percentage of the tannins and the drink and very light”. Adrian described it as a “gentle brandy” in taste, its effect being gentler on the nervous system, but still pleasantly invigorating.
We start with the cold Earl Grey, a rather less popular drink in the world compared to its black counterpart. The first impression is the delicate light green color of the potion, crystal clear and ethereal. This lightness is also transferred to the aroma, the bergamot is restrained and unobtrusive, the light grassy notes typical of green tea are felt in the body, the finish is spilling with a pleasant citrus freshness. I would drink it by the liter in the summer.
It’s the turn of the heavy artillery – the black Earl Grey, which, in addition to bergamot, welcomes us with strong woody notes and a hint of smokiness. The body is powerful, but we were able to round out the tannins by adding sugar. At the finish – a thin veil of toast and light caramel complete the overall feeling of regal sophistication of the potion. Although it’s not my drink, I can totally understand why the British Prime Minister fell in love with it at first sip.
Personally, I had no dilemma between the two. Cold Earl Gray conquered me with his ease. And since we made a whole jug of it for the tasting, I asked Adrian to fill my thermos. I’m sure one glass won’t be enough for you either.
Stay tuned for our next TEAsting, we are entering the territory of rare gold and red teas.
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