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What The Heck Is Bergamot?

That is one strange looking orange! Or is it a lime? Meet the odd fruit that gives Earl Grey tea its signature flavor and aroma.

Anyone who is familiar with Earl Grey tea knows the fragrant, citrusy scent and distinct flavor of bergamot. But what the heck is it? Where does it come from?

Bergamot is a fragrant citrus fruit from the tropical, Citrus bergamia plant. Common throughout the Mediterranean, the fruit is the size of an orange, yet similar in color to a lime, or even yellowish, depending on the ripeness.

The bergamot fruit is the size of an orange, yet similar in color to a lime, or even yellowish, depending on the ripeness.

What Does Bergamot Taste Like?

Like other citrus fruits, bergamot has a distinctive, heady fragrance and flavor. It is highly aromatic, and the essential oils are extracted from the rind. The fragrant oil is used to make perfumes, colognes, scented soaps, and of course, it gives Earl Grey tea its signature flavor and aroma. The flesh tastes the same way it smells: tart, acidic, highly fragrant, and spicy.

But unlike other citrus fruits, it cannot be eaten fresh. Bergamot oranges are sour, despite the fact that the fruit is a good source of vitamin C, potassium, vitamins B1, B2, and A. In addition to being the star flavor of Earl Grey tea, the zest and flesh of the bergamot fruit are used in Europe as a flavoring in cookies, custards, marmalades, syrups, and cocktails. It is also mixed with mayonnaise or pesto and served as a condiment with fish or meat entrees.

The Story Behind Earl Grey Tea

Earl Charles Gray was the Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1830-1834.

Charles, the second Earl Grey, was the Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1830 to 1834. While we know the British enjoy their tea, it’s not entirely clear how this specific combination of black tea and citrusy bergamot become associated with Earl Grey. Stories abound about the origin of the famous tea blend.

Invented by Accident?

One story suggests it was created by accident when a container of tea and bergamot oranges were shipped together from Chinese diplomats to Earl Grey. The essence of the fruit was said to have been absorbed by the tea during transit. Another account suggests that a Chinese mandarin acquaintance created the tea blend to improve the unpleasant mineral taste of the water at the Grey estate. A London tea house claims to have released the blend at the request of Earl Grey in the 1830s. But the exact story remains a mystery. Regardless, this classic tea blend is a popular favorite and has been for almost two centuries. In fact, when Twining’s changed its Earl Grey formula back in 2011, British citizens revolted. There was even a Facebook page created about the uproar!

Fun Fact: The British use the term “cuppa” for drinking a cup of tea. For example, “let’s go grab a cuppa.”

Tea With Blue Flowers?

You’ll often see loose leaf Earl Grey tea with tiny blue flowers in it, and often goes by the names “Blue flower Earl Grey Tea” or “blue Earl Grey” —just two of many names for a type of Earl Grey tea that has been blended with dried blue cornflowers flowers. Typically, the flowers are added to give the loose leaf tea some color.

5 Uses For Bergamot

Even though the Bergamot orange itself is not eaten, its essential oil and Earl Grey tea have many proven health benefits:

  1. Eases stress, anxiety, depression, and improves mood. When diffused, bergamot oil has powerful mood stabilizing effects. Try diffusing a few drops of the essential oil when stress and anxiety are high.
  2. Protects against diabetes, heart disease, and aids in weight loss. The UK Telegraph, Health News reported findings that drinking Earl Grey tea could help protect against heart disease, due to its bergamot content. A study by the University of Catanzaro in Italy found that bergamot could help you lose weight, and prevent diabetes by reducing blood sugar.
  3. Assists in proper digestion. Bergamot enhances the body’s digestive process. To ease discomfort and stimulate digestion, add two or three drops of Bergamot essential oil to a small amount of carrier oil, such as coconut or almond oil, in your palm. Gently rub onto the stomach area. Or sip a cup of Earl Grey tea.
  4. Reduces pain. Pour a scant amount of a carrier oil, such as coconut or almond oil, in your palm. Add two or three drops of Bergamot essential oil and gently rub directly on achy, sore muscles, or wherever a tension headache is felt. Keep oil away from the eyes.
  5. Natural deodorant and air freshener. Add a few drops of Bergamot oil to your air freshening spray, and to your deodorant, liquid soap, or beard oil. It smells great, removes bad odors, and stops the spread of germs and viruses.

Cautions:

  • Essential oils in the citrus family—lemon, orange, lemon verbena, lime, and bergamot—can cause your skin to become sensitive to ultraviolet rays of direct sunlight, sunlamps, and tanning beds. Never apply bergamot or the other noted oils to the skin prior to exposure to the sun or these light sources. And keep away from children.
  • Also, check with your doctor about the use of bergamot if you are taking statins.

Not Your Cup of Tea?

Not everyone is a fan of Bergamot’s strong flavor and aroma. What’s your opinion—are you a fan of Earl Grey tea? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

Deborah Tukua is a natural living, healthy lifestyle writer and author of 7 non-fiction books, including Naturally Sweet Blender Treats. She has been a writer for the Farmers' Almanac since 2004. Her article on herbal baths appears in the 2021 Farmers' Almanac.

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Merri

Is it possible to be allergic to it? I literally gag and become nauseous when I have Bergamot and/or black tea🤷🏼‍♀️

Gwen Lawrenz

my friends plant has little bugs on it, what should she do

Laconia Tracy Dick

I need to drink more Earl Grey. I love the taste and need the health benefits.

Mikki

I enjoy Earl Grey as well as Darjeeling with a slice of Key Lime Pie – for some reason, these teas just go well with the pie IMHO

Diane Bush

Now I’m wondering if I can find a specimen to go in my acres! Zone 8 or green house. Thank you for a well written and informative article. Earl grey is a staple for me!

Vickie hess

Earl grey is my go to when I can’t have coffee because my stomach acting up perfect replacement.

Melva D Strockman

I ADORE Earl Grey tears! It was my first hot tea and will always be my favorite.
I’m from South Carolina and the only hot tea here is that which you brew to make sweet iced tea. I’m a rebel and tried a cuppa at 4 years old.

Perry T. Brummett II

I first became a fan of Earl Grey tea while working in the North Sea as a deep sea diver.
While on leave I was in Great Yarmouth and was fortunate enough to be invited to High Tea with a lovely family from the area and was served Earl Grey with fresh creamery cream, and honey, along with biscuits.
I was thoroughly delighted with the tea and upon before returning to the states I made sure to purchase a couple of tins to bring back home.
I found your article when looking up what bergamot is due to a recipe calling for Bergamot tea.
Thank you for the excellent article so now I can speak more intelligently about Earl Grey tea with friends.
Oh by the way should you order some other tea in England you will draw some very condescending remarks from the people around you.
Earl Grey seems to be the National tea.
Thank once again for the information.

Sorry for the essay.

Robin H

Earl Grey is my favorite tea, I love it!

Lucretia

I love Earl Grey tea! It’s always been one of my favorites, and Lady Grey too.

MRS IRENE OWEN

I love Earl Grey tea, have it every day with Manuka honey (from New Zealand). Also love Bergamot – use bergamot essential oils a lot, it is also in the perfume I use.

Plumoegirl

I love my london fog!

Irvette

I don’t like it. The bergamot ruins the taste for me.

Laura B

Earl Grey is a favorite. Just found a spiced masala chai version that is lovely especially during the colder seasons. The aroma of the spices along with the bergamot is very enjoyable.
Enjoyed the informative background!

Joyce Marah

I love Lady Grey tea – a sofer version – delicious!

Jan McNulty

This Is The Best tea ever!! Went ACROSS THE POND last year n had it there! Oh my its great! I order it in bulk now! So tasty n healthy for you! Glad u posted tjis article! Thanks for sharing!

Elisa Montrose-Roback

Thank you so much for the information you provided in this article! I got curious about what bergamot is, and ended up here! Teavana makes a Creme Earl Grey which is just fabulous! 🙂

Lola

I’m drinking it right now. With honey and lemon. Very nice.

Brenda

I live in north Carolina whar is the best brand of Earl Grey to buy would a health food store be okay

Foggytoo

I buy Stash brand double bergamot from my grocery store. Im in north. Dont know what you have there. You can order from amazon in bulk. Stash brand has no plastic in their teabags with which to keep bag closed. They stay sealed too.

maria teresa

I like it as i am a fan of the citrus fruit.

Annie Mayfield

I haven’t tried Earl Grey tea yet but I’m about to! I got my mom this tea based on Pride and Prejudice from this small business called The Literary Tea Company! They have teas based on all sorts of books and it’s super cute! This tea is a blend of black tea and bergamot and I didn’t know what bergamot was so I looked it up! Fingers crossed!

Larry Young

Earl Grey tea has been my favorite tea ever since I started drinking tea 60 years ago. I didn’t know of all its properties & health benefits until I read this article. Thank you for sharing.

Norma

I find it is soothing to sip always feel much better after a cuppa Earl
Grey always

Joe

Studies have shown that not only grapefruit but bergamot has an effect on cholesterol medications and persons taking these meds should check with their doctor about the side effects.

Mikki

Enjoy Earl Grey, Lady Jane Grey, Darjeeling, too

Susan Arlene Tschantz

this was a really informative article. well written and easy to read and understand, Thank you.

Karen Van Buskirk

My favorite tea. Great for relaxing, easing discomfort of most kinds. Drink it often.

Craig Laird

We love our Earl Grey loose leaf teas at The Vine and Leaf! Earl Grey, Earl Grey Green, Earl Grey Lavender and Earl Grey Moonlight (with Vanilla). All natural!

AJ Wellner

I’m an avid tea drinker and Earl Gray is one of my top choices. I have a question – within the last 8 years or so I’ve noticed I haven’t been able to drink a bedtime cup of non organic tea without having an immensely dry mouth through out the night. This is so extreme that it can’t be quenched by drinking water. It isn’t as drastic with an organic variety. Can you tell me is it a chemical they are now using in the drying process or is it some type of medical condition I’ve acquired. I’d be interested in seeing an article on your conclusion. Thank you.

Susie

My son in law and I absolutely love Earl gray tea with bergamot.

Mikki

I like Earl Grey, Lady Jane Grey, Darjeeling, too but I am very fond of the 20th anniversary flavor the Republic of Tea came out with several years ago – it has a lovely aroma and a very unique flavor – they used premium Ceylon black tea leaves, white wine grapes, tea flowers, marigold petals, cornflowers and natural champagne from white wine grapes from S. Africa, and vanilla flavors – lovely with
afternoon snack or after dinner dessert

Mary Beth Kopec

I first discovered bergamot tea at a tea and coffee importers in Denver in the 70’s. Am so glad to read of the health benefits. Thank you for sharing! Roxborough, Colorado.

Paul

Brew DR tea company, creme da la earl gray.

Best I’ve had!

Peace

Eric

I was inspired by Donald Trump’s comment regarding internally taking some sort of detergent to avoid covid19. So after his comments I thought what and when have I ever consumed that is anything remotely soapy. It reminded me of 30 odd years ago drinking Early Gray tea and how soapy it tasted. I googled “Why does Early Gray tea taste soapy” and came across Bergamot oil and also this web page How ironic you claim it may have anti viral properties. Drinking it everyday now and even bought the essential oil on eBay. Thanks for the information.

Sonia

Have been reading the comments with much interest. I just adore real earl grey tea but trying to find a good one here in Australia is just about impossible. Nearly all of them have bergamot ‘flavour’ and no real bergamot. I have decided to make my own loose tea blend but can’t find food grade bergamot oil or bergamot rind. Was thinking of using dried rind from my kaffir lime tree. Do you think this could be a suitable alternative?

Annice Glarrow

Touch base with Stephanie at her shop (brick & mortar & online) The Herbal Toad. She’s a 3rd generation herbalist. I trust her & she’s so willing to share her knowledge! Tell her I recommended her!

Stewart

Sadly we have lost Whittards tea in the Uk unless as a specialist shop but really liked their Earl grey. I now drink Wiliamsons version of Earl Grey and love it as well as the iconic Caddy tin. It certainly does relieve stomach pain, in my case saving me from taking pain meds with IBS.
Simply love the flavour and also enjoy without milk, im told only people with no taste have milk but i like both ways making different drinks.

Cath

Thank you for the article. Since reading that most teabags contain additives, adhesive, bleach, etc., I’ve begun drinking only loose tea. I searched for and ordered dried bergamot peel with which to make Earl Grey myself, although Vahdam makes loose Earl Grey in Black, Green, and White varieties (tried the white one and loved it). Wish me luck!

Jennifer Carlson

I think you meant to say “Not unlike…” instead of “Unlike other citrus fruits” ? Im pretty sure that just about every citrus fruit out there is aromatic etc…

Paco Lesile

Ewww. Jennifer, Jenny Jen, real icky comment. Debbie’s article is great.

Sarah

I’m not a fan of Earl Grey. Over the years (at least 4 decades ). I’ve learned people either love it or hate it. And I’ve also noticed that, at least in my circles, men tend to love it! It’s one of my husband’s favorites (not ‘only’ men though , my sister-in-law loves it too!)

Tim

I’ve read that people taking statins to control their cholesterol should avoid grapefruit and bergamot because they can also lower cholesterol.

Madelyn Kinemond

I’m not sure I understand your comment …. wouldn’t lowering cholesterol with bergamot be a good thing? I’ve read that grapefruit with statins is not good.
It lessens effectiveness of statin..
so are you saying bergamot lessons statin effectiveness? Thank you.

Gary

Statins tend to lower cholesterol near target level. Bergamot get you all the way there….it depends..

Paula

Earl grey is my go to tea. I drink at least one cup a day. Stash brand double bergamot earl grey is my absolute favorite. Sometimes a steep one stash double bergamot tea bag with some darjeeling for a stronger tea taste. Delish!

Jay Conner

I went looking for preserved Bergamot because it makes since a wonderful Cranberry Sauce. My usual Middle Eastern market didn’t have it, but said Cedrate Jam, which they did have was essentially the same thing. Google doesn’t verify this one way or the other.
Any references to Cedrate and Bergamot ? The Cedrate is certainly not very aromatic.

Charlie M

I have become hooked on this stuff by accident! About 6 years ago at a previous employer, they had different blends of tea available in the break room in single tea bag form. I was desperately craving a glass of sweet tea (typical southern US beverage) so I brewed a cup and added the sugar and Ice. Thought it tasted a little odd at first but after about 2 days of doing this I became hooked on it’s unique flavor and like it better than any other tea I have tried!

Barbara Tibbetts

This is definitely one of my #1 “learn something new every day” moments! I was familiar with the Monarda type of bergamot but never knew there was an actual tree fruit! Thanks, Farmers’ Almanac. And, too, thanks to commenter Elmarie for the tip on distinguishing from Kaffir Lime. I seriously want to wake up my husband and friends to share this information!

Ross Bernhardt

I’m a big black tea drinker but DESPISE Earl Grey tea. I know I’m the odd man out in that regard, but I just can’t stand the bergamot taste. It tastes like air freshener to me.

Elizabeth Wittmershaus

Hi, yes, I love earl grey tea, but I felt the need to mention that You should NEVER apply ANY essential oil to your skin without DILUTING it first in a carrier oil, such as grapeseed, sweet almond, or coconut oil.
Essential oils are extremely concentrated and applying it directly to the skin without diluting it first can cause serious health issues. In children and the elderly, it could be a fatal mistake.
Essential oils are great but do your research before you start putting stuff on your skin.

Robert Terrace

I love Earl Grey tea. I also like green tea. Maybe I should get some Bergamot oil and try it in green tea. I could create a new tea, Earl Green.

Phil

I use a single tea bag of earl grey tea combined with a single tea bag of peppermint tea (plus about two teaspoons of honey) to get a really kicking cup of tea.
The peppermint really helps make this cup of tea something special.
I highly recommend it.

Lynn

I adore Earl Grey tea, and the scent of bergamot has become a favorite.

I was intrigued by it being one of the three essential oils used in the original scent of Poo-Pourri bathroom products, so of course had to try it! It’s a wonderful fragrance combination (and the product leaves the room smelling citrusy but not overly lemony or like traditional air fresheners!)

And I’m thrilled to now know that it has so many health benefits! Thanks!!

Alghzawi Adnan

I have been drinking Earl Gray tea since I was a boy and still have it. It is the coolest tea ever because of the strong bergamot flavor it contains .. It is the pragmatist that makes everything delicious and wonderful.

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