Sunday, November 29, 2009

My quest for the perfect Earl Grey

My favourite cuppa since I can’t remember when is Earl Grey. It’s the tea I start the day with and the tea, up to now, I’ve invariably enjoyed. But recently I’ve bought two packets that have really let me down - one from a company called Miles, the other from the ubiquitous Twinings. Both smelt like Earl Grey but tasted like black tea of the dullest kind.

Fortunately help was at hand in the form of a neighbour, Kate Gover of Lahloo Tea (right at Lido in Bristol) who predictably pointed out I’d get a better result if I used a leaf tea. (Advice, of course, I'm aware of but choose to ignore first thing in the morning.) Most Earl Greys, she told me, are made from pretty low grade teas sprayed with artificial bergamot flavouring - not even real bergamot oil. (Bergamot is a type of orange btw.) Hers is made from second flush Darjeeling, ‘a little bit’ of Assam and ‘the best cold-pressed Bergamot oil I could find'. It certainly smelt heavenly in the tin.

She went through the ritual of heating the pot and steeping the leaves (2 teaspoons for the two of us) for 3-3 1/2 minutes then removed the infuser and poured the tea which she drank without milk and I drank with a splash.

It was very different from the Earl Grey I’m used to - much more delicate and subtle and to be honest I was slightly disappointed at first sip (she says many EG aficionados initially feel the same - I suspect because our palates have been denatured by the artifical flavouring). But it grew on me, especially with an elegant Earl Grey chocolate on which Kate has collaborated with London chocolatier Damian Allsop. And it had a much longer finish and was much more refreshing and invigorating than my usual brew. The problem is that it’s a meditative kind of tea rather than a restorative quick fix which is what you - or rather I - want at 7am.

So I’m still looking. The best teabags I’ve found so far are from Sainsbury’s and a Fair Trade Earl Grey in grey packaging whose name I can’t recall but will post when I next spot it. And Taylor’s of Harrogate, which I’m currently drinking, isn’t bad though even that has ‘natural Bergamot flavour’ which usually means a natural flavouring that tastes of Bergamot rather than one that is derived from it.

Any fellow Earl Grey fans out there? Which brand do you drink or can anyone else recommend another early morning cuppa? And do you use teabags (be honest!)


  1. I was recently served Earl Grey in a fancy hotel in New Orleans, where they seem to take tea a bit more seriously than in the rest of the US. It was flowery and delicate, perfectly integrated with a light astringency and the expansive, lifting scent of bergamot. It's produced by Tea Forte (see, and though the packaging is twee, it's sold both in bag and loose. Enjoy!

  2. I recently bought some Smoked EG (because my usual brew is Lapsang) at Fortnum's. Not recommended. But, to be honest, there's not much any of us can expect if we will insist on using the floor sweepings that go into tea bags. But, as you say, at 7am, who's going to start a Japanese tea ceremony?


  3. Thanks for that link, Meg - nice site! And I like Lapsang too, Joanna - tho' not first thing in the morning. My tea-drinking habits are, I confess, well behind my coffee drinking ones. I wouldn't dream of drinking instant coffee so can't really think why I use teabags.

  4. Taylor's of Harrogate used to make a Christmas Earl Grey that was fabulous--Earl Grey with a few extra spices. I can't find this in the United States anymore.

  5. Love Lahloo Tea (have two of their excellent Oolongs and a non-caffeinated white mulberry which is addictive), and love Earl Grey so shall have to add this to my burgeoning tea cupboard...Lady Grey has long been a favourite too - nice and citrussy in winter

    must confess in the morning I opt for M&S extra strong loose tea, it tastes a million times better than anything you get in a bag and has that comforting 'builder's'tea richness to it

  6. Ooo, like the sound of that, Ruth. Sounds like a chai. And like you my own Lahloo fave is an Oolong, Sig (the Amber one) but haven't tried the mulberry. I will now! I do love a good builders' with a fry up - and with fish and chips - but not sure about first thing ;-)

  7. OH and I have totally different tea tastes. I have a library of tea depending on my mood: Oolong, Jasmine Silver Tip, White whole leaf (all from the Rare Tea Lady) Camomile flowers, and peppermint tea. All loose teas, and all very economical. The Tea teas, (as against the herbal ones) I reuse up to 4 times each.

    I don't like milk in tea, so appreciate the delicacy of oriental teas more than Indian ones. Although a first flush Darjeeling is very refreshing sometimes.

    I find Earl Grey too artificially perfumed for my liking, although Lady Grey is just about ok, but I wonder if this is due to the quality of bergamot in the Earl Grey's I have tried? Quite likely by the sound of it.

    Hubby only likes good builders tea, he really doesn't care if it is bag or loose, at the moment he likes Yorkshire tea for Hard Water (bags). As long as it is thick, darkish brown, and tannic in the extreme he is a happy bunny.

  8. I love tea. And I love having lots of different teas to enjoy when the mood strikes. But, in the morning, the one I keep going back to is actually a very inexpensive oolong from China Town supermarkets - packs much more of a flavour punch than what one might refer to as proper or better quality oolong (which I also adore) and has a strong, smokey flavour which just seems to work for me of a morning!

  9. Agree, Kavey. The more I try Oolong the more I like it. Shall have to try the Chinatown ones - is there a brand name or a packet design/colour to look out for?

    My OH and I have a similar divergence in tea tastes Josordoni except that mine likes his - whatever the tea - INCREDIBLY week so that the leaves/teabag barely see the water whereas I like mine properly steeped. He's always complaining that the cupboard is overrun with different boxes but like you I like teas - and infusions - for different moods and am always on the lookout for new ones. (Have a feeling this is going to get worse with this Quest For the Perfect Earl Grey project.)

  10. The Earl Gray teas (there are 2) from Comptoir des Colonies in Dijon, France are excellent. I always use tea leaves. Lady Gray is good also and recently I've also been drinking a tea called Tibet in the mornings...

  11. Thanks, Temporal, although getting hold of them in the UK might prove a problem. Certainly like the sound of a tea called Tibet!