So Who is Earl Gray, Anyway?
Earl Gray is one of the most recognizable and popular blended teas, but there are many others that fill the need for those tea drinkers who wish to have the very same flavor profile with each and every cup.
They want to know that each time they purchase an Earl Gray or English or Irish Breakfast, it will always be the same strength and flavor. And to satisfy the needs of their customers tea blenders work studiously to recreate that same flavor profile over and over again.
It's not an easy task to replicate the exact same flavor profile repeatedly. Tea blenders must taste hundreds of samples of different teas to come up with the perfect combination, sometimes mixing over thirty different teas to arrive at just the right blend.
It's a complicated process, with teas from different regions, tea estates, and seasons, being tested to come up with the right recipe.
Tea tasters work within a rigid set of standards, with samples of dry leaf set out, each in their own containers in a long row on a testing bench. The tea is then carefully measured to a specific weight (usually 5.2 – 5.6 grams / 0.18 – 0.2 ounces), and placed in a special lidded brewing mug. Boiling water is added to black teas and slightly cooler water added to the more delicate green or white teas. A timer is then set for five to six minutes (or less for certain green teas). When the tea is finished steeping the lidded mug is tipped on its side in a tasting bowl where a serration in the lip of the mug allows the brewed tea to run into the bowl.
In a process much like wine tasting, the wet tea leaves are poured onto the upturned mug lid and placed near the tasting bowl. The tea taster then uses a rounded spoon, quickly slurping the tea so it hits his taste buds, then rolling it around in his mouth to determine the full flavor of the tea before spitting it out into a portable spittoon that moves along the work bench.
The tea taster evaluates not only the quality and value of the tea, but also the appearance of the dry and wet leaf, and the taste and aroma of the liquor.
Once he arrives at just the right recipe, the combination of teas is loaded into a large cone shaped hopper, with a blending drum that thoroughly combines the teas together. The tea is then packaged and sent to the customer.
The Classic Blends
Over many centuries certain teas have developed according to specific likes of individual nationalities. For example, the British like a strong, robust tea to get them going in the morning. It's a totally different story in Russia where they have developed a taste for a dark, smoky flavored tea. For nearly every taste and desire, there is likely a tea to satisfy the demand.
Some popular blended teas include:
Earl Gray – this is probably one of the most popular and recognizable blended teas in the world. Using a traditional blend of China and Indian teas, Earl Gray is flavored with bergamot, an essential oil from the citrus like bergamot fruit, which resembles an orange in taste.
Depending on the amount of bergamot oil used, Earl Gray can taste wonderful, or absolutely awful. If too much oil is used the tea can taste like dish soap. But if too little bergamot oil is used, you may as well be drinking plain tea. When done right, though, you have a wonderful refreshing cup of tea with a hint of citrus.
Many different tales exist on how Earl Gray got its name. One tells of a British diplomat on a mission to China, who saved the life of a Mandarin. Deeply grateful the Mandarin gifted the recipe for the flavored tea to the diplomat and also to the Prime Minister, Earl Gray, who served from 1830 – 1834.
Another version tells of how it was the Earl himself who saved the Mandarin's life, and was then given the recipe as thanks. Yet another story tells of how the recipe was a gift to the Prime Minister at the end of a successful diplomatic mission.
It's not likely any of the stories are true, but no matter the circumances surrounding it, Earl Gray still remains today, one of the most popular blended teas ever marketed.
Today you can find many different versions of Earl Gray, using China tea, Darjeeling, Ceylon, Silver Tip, smoked tea (Lapsang Souchong), and even green tea, oolong, and decaffeinated teas.
Breakfast blends – these blends are designed to go with heavy, fatty foods such as bacon, sausage, fish, smoked meats, and fried eggs. Some of the more popular breakfast blends are:
English Breakfast – this is usually blended with teas from Assam for their malty, smooth flavor, and Sri Lanka and Kenya for their strong deep flavors. Also some American companies use blends of China Keemun teas exclusively as a base for their English Breakfast teas.
Irish Breakfast – this tea is usually strong and dark, made with a blend of Kenya and Indonesian black teas.
Indian Breakfast – is usually a blend of Darjeeling and Assam, or Assam and Nilgiri, or sometimes a mix of all three. Indian Breakfast is generally a lighter, more fruity blend with slightly astringent Darjeelings.
Afternoon blends – these include the "O-Clock" tea blends (Four-O-Clock, Five-O-Clock teas), which usually include a blend of India and Sri Lanka black teas, sometimes with a hint of jasmine or bergamot oil .
Some companies prefer to keep their afternoon blends lighter, using a base of Darjeeling or China and Taiwanese teas.
Russian Caravan – this blended tea uses a combination of black China teas that have a slightly smoky flavor, trying to recreate the original teas that were transported by horseback to Moscow from China.
During the seventeenth century when Chinese tea producers first began making black teas for export to far off lands like Russia, the manufacturing process employed drying tea in large ovens using local pine wood, giving the teas a slightly smoky flavor.
The teas may have had an exposure to smoke from the caravan's many camp fires along the trade route on the journey back to Saint Petersburg. The smoky flavor is an accepted one, but today many consumers worldwide, swear by it. A small amount of Lapsang Souchong is usually added to the blend to give it the slightly smoky flavor.
Today you can find just about any flavor combination to suit your taste. And if you can not find just that right blended tea that is to your liking, you can easily make up your own blend of teas. Just get some fillable tea sacs or bags and choose your favorite loose leaf teas and you're ready to go and experiment to your heart's desire.
Just remember to take lots of notes along the way, so you can always recreate your perfect blended tea.