What is bergamot?
Bergamot is a citrus fruit (citrus bergamia), similar in appearance to lime. In some places it is used for juice or jam, but it is mainly grown for the oil contained in the peel. It is grown especially in southern Italy (around the city of Bergamo), but also around the world. Previously, bergamot was known as one of the ingredients in Eau de Cologne, the incredibly successful perfume created by the Italian Giovanni Maria Farina in Cologne in 1709. But for us, it's all about tea, of course.
How is bergamot oil made?
The fruit is placed in a "pelatrice" or peeler. It looks like a top-loading washing machine, and works internally as one big grater as the drum rotates. At the same time, the fruit is showered with water, resulting in a solution of oil and water. Pressing and centrifuging produces a kind of crude oil. Finally, the oil is distilled to remove any impurities and is ready for use.
A lot of bergamot oil in circulation has been diluted with lemon oil, bitter orange oil, or synthetic flavors.
What is Earl Grey?
Earl Grey was actually a person, or rather a title, (here in Sweden it would be equivalent to "greve" i.e. count). It is said that the second Earl of Grey was somehow the originator of Earl Grey tea. The story that he received tea and recipes as a thank you for saving the life of a young princess in Canton is a bit of a stretch. Not least because he was hardly in China when it was supposed to have happened. So what is Earl Grey tea? It is simply black tea flavored with the essential oil of bergamot. It is such a common flavoring that many people - especially in Sweden - mistake bergamot for tea scent.
The flavor itself depends partly on which tea you use as a base, and of course also on the quality and quantity of bergamot oil. A couple of British companies claim to have the "original recipe", but the name is not protected and there are no regulations on how to call it earl grey.
Nowadays, the flavor is often varied by mixing bergamot oil with orange, lemon or lime oil. There is also green earl grey, where the base is green tea, as well as rooibos flavored with bergamot.