All tea companies create their own blends to suit different tastes and different times of day, and there is no hard-and-fast rule as to which teas those blends include. However, there are a few classic blends that tend to contain similar mixtures of teas.
Traditionally, this is a blend of China teas or China and Indian tea scented with oil from the citrus bergamot fruit - a sort of orange. The stories that explain the origin of the name vary somewhat. One tale tells how a British diplomat on a mission to China, saved the life of a Mandarin and was given the recipe for this flavored tea as a token of thanks and as a gift to the then British Prime Minister, Earl Grey (Prime Minister from 1830-1834).
Another legend says it was the Earl himself who saved the Mandarin and was given the recipe. Yet another says that the gift of tea was the conclusion to a successful diplomatic mission. However these different stories should be treated with some scepticism. First, the Chinese have never drunk this particular scented tea themselves; secondly, biographies of the Earl and numerous history books covering relations and activities involving China and Britain between 1830 and 1834 (a time of hostilities due to the Opium trade) make no mention whatsoever of the gift of tea; and thirdly, modem blends claim that the tea should contain Indian as well as China teas, but in 1830-34, no tea was being produced in India so no blend could have contained it.
The name and the stories may just have been a clever marketing ploy by whoever created the scented mixture. Certainly, it is incredibly popular today and several different types exist, using China tea, Darjeeling, Ceylon. Silver Tip, and smoked tea. The amount of bergamot varies, and this makes an important difference to how good the tea is - too much makes the infusion taste soapy, too little, and you may as well drink straight tea. The correct balance can give a refreshing, lightly citrus flavor that goes well with creamy cakes.
Yunnan Earl Grey (Roi des Earl Grey) is a black China tea from Yunnan scented with bergamot. It produces a beautifully balanced flavor and is the perfect tea for food, marrying well with a wide variety of dishes, especially fish. It is best served without milk and makes an excellent brew for teatime, energizing both the body and mind.
Because this is intended to accompany fatty fried foods, such as bacon and eggs, and strong flavors, such as smoked fish, breakfast blends usually contain Indian (usually Assam), Ceylon and African teas, although some people argue that China Keemun is the ideal tea to drink with toast and marmalade.
The Irish have traditionally always liked their tea strong and dark, and these blends consist of rich malty Assams, sometimes with African and Indonesian leaf added.
Afternoon Blend/Five O’ clock Tea
These are generally lighter teas blended with Darjeelings, China, Formosa, and lighter Ceylon teas, sometimes with a hint of added jasmine or bergamot.
To re-create the preferred taste of the Russians who drank China tea carried by camel from the Russia-China border, these blends are made up of black or oolong teas, from China or Formosa, with a hint of smoky Lapsang Souchong or Tarry Souchong.
Individual preferences for tea are very personal and many drinkers blend their own mixtures at home to create a flavor they particularly like. Successful blends are the result of experimentation and tasting, trial, and error. A small amount of a good quality tea or a few leaves of a scented tea such as Jasmine or Tarry Souchong can turn an ordinary tea into something quite special.
Add perhaps a dash of Assam to Ceylon for a robust breakfast tea, a little Lapsang to Assam for a brunch or lunchtime brew, or a few leaves of Jasmine to China black for a light and refreshing afternoon blend. The possibilities are endless.