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.
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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Pearls of Garden Wisdom: Time-Saving Tips and Techniques from a Country Home, Pearls of Country Wisdom: Hints from a Small Town on Keeping Garden and Home, and Naturally Sweet Blender Treats. Tukua has been a writer for the Farmers' Almanac since 2004.
In Greece they make what is called a spoon sweet with the peel of Bergamot. It is essentially candied peel served in its syrup. Delicious! And also I love Earl Grey, especially as a London Fog.
ever since i found out earl grey’s star ingredient comes from italy, i’ve been pronouncing bergamot as behrr-ga-mo (rolling R) 😆
Yes, it has a definite favor and aroma, love the taste and hope it lives up to the benefits stated. I have been a coffee drinker and this is not my first cup of tea, but it is the first cup of bergamot tea.
I absolutely LOVE Earl Grey tea in all of its many forms (regular, with lavender, etc.) I’m a big fan of bergamot, too-love its clean smell.
Is there an Earl Gray tea that has Lavender instead of bergamot?
Earl Grey tea is known for being flavored with bergamot for its distinct taste. Lavender is a frequent partner in an Earl Grey blend because they taste wonderful together!
Not a fan of Earl Gray tea! It tastes like dirt! And has a lasting after taste. I love orange peko tea and other spice teas but not Earl Gray
Orange Pekoe tea is not orange flavored. Perhaps you are thinking of a product like “Constant Comment” or other.
i like it
The area of Italy I currently live in (Reggio Calabria) is one of the very few places in the world where bergamot actually grows. Aside from producing and exporting bergamot spirit to the cosmetics industry all over the world, it’s used everywhere here: boiled sweets, cakes, soft drinks, plain juice, pharmaceuticals, liquors, even risotto, a so much more. It is a personal taste and not everyone likes it (I felt like I was eating perfume the first time I ate it), but here, it’s regarded as something really special.
Earl Grey is the only tea I thoroughly enjoy … and that Bergamot is grown in Calabria where my family came from, is a bonus. Good stuff!
Wish it were available here in the US
Earl Grey tea and bergamot t oil are both here on the us. I wonder if there is a reason u can not get them fruit. Maybe Big Pharmacy is the reason.
Bergamot Oranges should be made an Italian National Treasure !!!!! Definitely Heaven Scent!!!!!
I love all kinds of tea, but never tried Earl Grey. It sounded too British, too snobby. Then I read The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, and Earl Grey tea was in the story… I love the flavor and the aroma.
Love, love Earl Gray tea. One of my top five teas, sometimes I let it steep for awhile i add a little honey and a little lemon. Delicious!
I live Earl Grey tea. I’ve been drinking it for years. Unlike the Brits, I never ruin tea with milk or sugar. In the warm months, I brew Earl Grey for iced tea and add fresh lemon juice. my husband loves it.
If “tea, Earl Gray: hot” was always Captain Picard’s first choice, then it’s good enough for me!
make it so Number 1…………………
I love twinnings earl grey tea,I love to drink it in the afternoon the flavor is heavenly.
just these simple words… “Tea, Earl Grey, Hot”
I love the aroma of Earl grey tea so much.When opening the bag packet, I hold it to my nose and sniff (Bigelow brand) I read up on bergamot and found a place that would send me a small tree, about2 feet high. Now two years later itis 6 feet high and has 4 hard green fruits about size of tennis ball, and some small ones starting out. Now I need to figure how to use the fruits. The tree is outside in a pot, in the central valley of California.
I grew up in the middle of citrus region, we grew citrus, bergamot orange , the good use of bergamot is as preserve or marmalade, that is how you can eat it.
Perhaps bergamotcello?? Might be worth a try.
Where can I buy one. I live in FL and we can grow all sorts of citrus.
I too get a bit nauseated if I have tea on an empty stomach but otherwise I drink it nonstop through the day. Instead of black I drink Bigelow’s Earl Grey green tea. I also have a reed diffuser of bergamot essential oil on my desk. The fragrance is heavenly.
Is it possible to be allergic to it? I literally gag and become nauseous when I have Bergamot and/or black tea??♀️
If I drink any black tea on an empty stomach I get nauseous. But after I’ve eaten something, no
I’m the same way. And people have told me I’m sensitive to something in the tea, but I always forget what. I figured out long ago that if I put half-n-half in my tea, I’m fine. and now drink it everyday. but still, if i’m out of cream, and empty stomach, I get worse than nauseous, I throw it all up. I’m actually drinking earl gray right now, lol, which is what lead me to this site.
Hi Freya and Amelia, yes, tea’s tannins can cause stomach upset in many people. Whenever any type of tea is brewed for longer than two minutes, the tannin from the tea leaves will seep into the brew; the stronger the tea, the more tannin there will be. So perhaps try only steeping for a short time.
Yes, I am in the middle of a strong allergic reaction while using a hand made Bergamot soap. Saw my dermatololgist today it is one thing they check for when they do allergy testing. I’ve been dealing with a rash and face neck scalp itch for a month and taking histamines and prescrtription creams to help get rid of the condition. Bergamot is an “in ” thing in cosmetics right now more than ever.
I have the exact same reaction, with Earl grey tea. I do not have it with other teas, served black or other wise. Thus I have put it down to the Bergamot itself, or the corn flowers added to make the blueish grey tone it has…
my friends plant has little bugs on it, what should she do
Hi Gwen, Can you be more specific – what do the bugs look like, is it on a bergamot tree or another plant, and where is your friend located?
I need to drink more Earl Grey. I love the taste and need the health benefits.
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
I recently adopted brother and sister kittens. The boy is a gray tabby and the girl is a darling blonde. I love tea and so their names are Earl Grey and Darjeeling ?
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!
Glad you enjoyed it, Diane! Many people grow citrus indoors in pots; I don’t see why you couldn’t try it with bergamot. Here’s an article on growing citrus you might find useful.
Earl grey is my go to when I can’t have coffee because my stomach acting up perfect replacement.
Vickie, yes, there’s something so soothing about tea, isn’t there.
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.
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.
Hi Perry, we enjoyed your comment, thank you for taking the time to write!
Earl Grey is my favorite tea, I love it!
I love Earl Grey tea! It’s always been one of my favorites, and Lady Grey too.
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.
I love my london fog!
I don’t like it. The bergamot ruins the taste for me.
I’d rather use Earl Gray as a fragrant sachet to put in my underwear drawer than drink it. To me, tea shouldn’t have an overwhelming taste that knocks out the flavor of the pastry I eat with it, and I certainly wouldn’t be drinking it just for fluid content such as if it was cold from sitting around for some time. Earl Grey deserves to be made a ‘to-do’ about, as if it’s something special beyond one of six (or eight?) cups of liquid people should consume daily to avoid dehydration. I’d get heartburn if I drank it every day.
I agree. I think it tastes soapy.
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!
I love Lady Grey tea – a sofer version – delicious!
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!
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! 🙂
Elisa, we’ll have to try it! Glad you enjoyed the article.
I’m drinking it right now. With honey and lemon. Very nice.
I live in north Carolina whar is the best brand of Earl Grey to buy would a health food store be okay
Hi Brenda, we don’t recommend any one brand of tea, it’s whatever you enjoy. A Health food store usually has a nice selection of teas.
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.
I like it as i am a fan of the citrus fruit.
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!
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.
Thank you for your comment, Larry! Glad you found it helpful.
I find it is soothing to sip always feel much better after a cuppa Earl
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.
Hi Joe, because we are not a medical site, we hope that people taking medications talk with their doctor about any restrictions to their diet.
Enjoy Earl Grey, Lady Jane Grey, Darjeeling, too
this was a really informative article. well written and easy to read and understand, Thank you.
My favorite tea. Great for relaxing, easing discomfort of most kinds. Drink it often.
Isn’t it so wonderful? Interesting that I will only drink it hot. Have you ever tried it iced?
Yes. On our second pitcher of iced Earl Grey. Added fresh lemon juice. Just finished my glass of tea. Delicious. Try it.
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!
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.
Hmmm, AJ, I would suggest getting it checked out with a Dr. Excessive thirst is a symptom of other conditions that may not be related to the tannins in the tea. Are you drinking the tea black or with other additions?
My son in law and I absolutely love Earl gray tea with bergamot.
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
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.
Brew DR tea company, creme da la earl gray.
Best I’ve had!
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.