London Fog the delicious coffee shop style drink you can make at home

The key ingredient to a London Fog is Earl Grey tea. In this article I’m going to share with you not just the recipe for a delicious and comforting coffee shop style drink you can make at home but a little bit about the fascinating history of this unique tea.

Earl Grey is a black tea flavoured with bergamot. Since the name is not trademarked, any tea company can call their blend “Earl Grey”. The black teas used in a particular blend can vary with some being darker and stronger than others. Whether or not it is appropriate to add milk to your Earl Grey – who cares, really, it’s your drink and you should drink it how you like it – depends on the strength of the black tea in the blend. It’s a moot point really because today we are going to be discussing variations of the drink London Fog all of which contain milk. I really like the taste of milk in my Earl Grey, or the taste of Earl Grey in my milk if I’m making something like a London Fog, and I doubt very much that this will be changing any time soon.

Before we begin, let’s start with answering the two obvious questions when it comes to Earl Grey: what is bergamot and who was Earl Grey?

What is bergamot?

The bergamot orange is a hybrid citrus fruit created from a mix of lemon with bitter orange. You might know bitter orange as Seville orange or marmalade orange. Bergamot oranges are around the same size as other oranges and have a colour ranging from lime green to a vibrant, well, orange. The rind is used to prepare bergamot oil, which can then be used to create Earl Grey tea; but were you to eat the orange itself the taste, I have been informed, lies somewhere between a sweet orange and a grapefruit.

Bergamot oil has a variety of uses other than flavouring tea. You might find it flavouring sweets such as Turkish delight but it is also found in cosmetics and perfumes. Regarding the latter, you’ll most often notice it in the top or head notes of the scent. Which is the posh way of describing the first whiff you get when applying perfume. All very interesting, but how does the bergamot oil get into the tea?

The most common method of adding bergamot to tea is to spray black tea leaves with the bergamot oil after the oxidation process. Oxidising is simply exposing the tea leaves to the air until they turn black. The longer the leaves are left, the blacker and stronger the resulting tea will taste. The second way of adding flavour is to simply mix dried bergamot rinds in with the black tea and then brew the two together.

When consumed in large quantities, bergamot can have adverse effects on the body. A paper published in the Lancet in 2002 reported the case of a 44 year old man who regularly consumed four litres of Earl Grey tea a day. He presented symptoms of muscle cramps that eventually spread all over his body. Bergamot can act as a potassium blocker when taken in very large doses. Lowered potassium levels in the body can cause muscle spasms and cramps. Fortunately for the 44 year old Earl Grey lover his symptoms disappeared after reducing his daily intake to a litre a day. He has since doubled his intake to two litres daily (half his previous consumption when the problems started) and reports having no issues.

So the short answer to the question ‘what is bergamot’ is: it’s a lemony/orangey flavour added to the tea.

Who was Earl Grey?

More controversial than whether or not to add milk to your Earl Grey is the question of what relationship – if any – did Earl Grey have to the tea named for him, if it was named for him. The most likely answer is: none whatsoever. 

Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl Grey (also known as Viscount Howick) was Prime Minister of Britain from 1830 and 1834 taking over from Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington who had finally given Napoleon what for in Waterloo fifteen years earlier. The purpose of this brief historical snapshot is to illustrate the distance in time between Earl Grey’s working life and the first recorded use of the name Earl Grey used to describe a tea. This was in 1929, almost a hundred years after the Earl’s premiership. It must be said that this is a reference to ‘Earl Grey tea’ and there had been references to an ‘Earl Grey’s mixture’ from as early as 1884. However, there is no way of knowing (a) if this is a reference to Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl Grey, or (b) if this mixture was a bergamot flavoured tea. Interestingly, the same company had previously advertised a ‘Grey mixture’, that is without enobling their concoction with the title of ‘Earl’. If their product was named for the actual Earl Grey, wouldn’t they have called it ‘Earl’ from the get-go? The real issue here is twofold: why, if the tea is named in honour of a particular Earl Grey; and, if it is, why wait so long before bestowing the honour?

The time gap is a good enough indication that the Earl did not choose to bestow upon himself the honour of having a tea named for him. If he’d come up with the name then there would be references to Earl Grey tea within his life-time. However, the Earl died in 1845 decades before the first published reference to ‘Earl Grey tea’. 

There is another reason to believe that the Earl would not have named this tea after himself. In his day flavouring a tea with bergamot was done not to enhance the taste of good quality tea but to mask the taste of inferior quality tea. A high-status figure such as the Prime minister or an Earl would not want to be associated with such a tea. This doesn’t mean, of course, that someone else wouldn’t choose to associate their tea with a high-status man like Earl Grey. But the question is: why would they?

That is, why choose to associate Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl Grey with tea of any kind? The Grey family have no connection to tea and, as I’ve already pointed out, the Earl is pretty much a forgotten figure (well, not at the forefront of most people’s minds) by the time we begin to see advertisements for Earl Grey tea. The answer must be that Earl Grey tea has no connection with an actual Earl Grey.

Interestingly, while Earl Grey tea is not trademarked and any manufacturer can use the name, Lady Grey is trademarked. The name is owned by the Twinnings company and is similar to Earl Grey but with added sweet orange and lemon flavours to create a milder tea. The Lady Grey being referenced is Mary Elizabeth Grey, the wife of Chales, the 2nd Earl Grey but this honour has only been conferred due to the popular modern association between Earl Grey tea and the actual Earl.

So, the short answer to the question of who Earl Grey was and what connection he has to Earl Grey tea is: he was British Prime Minister between 1830 and 1834; and in all likelihood has no connection (other than in the popular imagination) to the tea that bears his name.

Now that we know that Earl Grey is a lemony-orange flavoured black tea that can be enjoyed with milk and was probably not named after any actual Earl Grey, what next? Well, what comes next is a delicious and deliciously-simple recipe for a London Fog – a milky tea made from Earl Grey with added vanilla flavouring.

The London Fog (hot and cold variants)

The basics of a London Fog are: milk, Earl Grey and vanilla flavouring. You are free – why wouldn’t you be – to choose a milk or milk substitute of your choice and to use a vanilla ‘dusting’ (Tesco sells little jars of the stuff especially for hot drinks) or syrup. Some people add extra sugar or some honey. Personally, I use full fat oat milk. I do drink cow’s milk in tea but I love the taste and texture of oat milk in this drink, and vanilla dusting (which I find very sweet and so do not add extra sweetness in the form of sugar or honey).

I do not like iced coffee and so never prepare the ‘cold variant’ of London Fog but if you want to then just follow the recipe below before pouring over plenty of ice. For people who enjoy bubble tea (I think I must be the only hold-out left who has not jumped onto this craze) tapioca balls can be added to create the effect.

Ingredients (for two people)

  • Enough milk for two people (you know how much you want)
  • 3 bags of your favourite Earl Grey tea
  • Vanilla syrup for dusting
  • Honey or sugar (optional)

Pour the milk into a saucepan and put over a low heat. You want the milk to get up to temperature slowly, if you whack the heat right up you will scorch the pan and the milk will taste bad. Add the tea bags and allow to steep while the milk heats up. Taste regularly and when the tea has reached an intensity of flavour you’re satisfied with, remove the bags. Even if the milk isn’t fully hot enough you can still remove the teabags if you’re worried it may become too strong. Once the teabags are out you can add the vanilla syrup or dusting and any extra sweetness such as honey or sugar.

When the tea is ready you can “pull it” to add an extra touch of deliciousness. Pulled tea is poured from cup to cup, usually from a height, at least four times. The pouring action cools the tea and adds air to the drink resulting in a pleasing foam resting on top. The difference between pulled and non-pulled tea is remarkable.

Milk options

You can prepare a London Fog with regular cow’s milk, from skimmed to full fat, but it works fantastically well with milk substitutes such as soya, oat or almond milks. As I mentioned earlier,  I drink cow’s milk most of the time but I also enjoy the taste and texture of oat milk, especially in a London Fog. It really is worth experimenting with different milks to find the perfect drink for you.