Cup of chemicals anybody? to all the lovers of Earl Grey tea – the REAL bergamot content is ‘very small’ & the rest is chemical & natural flavouring

For years I’ve enjoyed Earl Grey tea. In fact it was the first non-mainstream tea I ever took a liking to, and that’s going back forty odd years now. A dear friend introduced me to it and I’ve bought it ever since.  Since it has always been very expensive compared to your common breakfast teas, almost double the price, it was reserved to enjoy only on the odd occasion. For a few years I didn’t drink it at all because my very tight budget just didn’t allow it. The expense I believe comes from the addition of subtly flavoured bergamot, an oil extract from the bergamot orange. “Citrus bergamia, the bergamot orange (pronounced /ˈbɜːrɡəˌmɒt/), is a fragrant citrus fruit the size of an orange, with a green color similar to a lime.” (Wikipedia)

Bergamot Orange [wikipedia]
So a year or two back I began buying it again and noticed it wasn’t as strong. It took two bags to taste the bergamot. Or making a smaller cup. This led me to start reading the fine print. Yes it was labeled ‘light strength’. I contacted the Twinings Facebook page and asked what was up with the ‘light’? The answer was a little vague and I couldn’t really figure out what it meant. I did complain about the fact you could hardly taste the bergamot. Then recently I noticed a package change and the bags were sealed in a foil bag. The bergamot flavour was stronger and on examining the new pack it said 5% bergamot flavouring whereas the old packet said 3.5%. Yay, I said to myself. They’ve strengthened it. Then I began to ponder. ‘Flavouring’? Surely not? So I contacted the Facebook page again and asked is the flavouring real bergamot or imitation? I was instructed in their reply to contact Twinings using the email ad supplied. My first red flag. If it was real bergamot they would surely be proud to tell me that on Facebook for all the public to see. This was the reply I got:

In our Twinings tea bag Earl Grey products we use a combination of a granular bergamot flavouring, plus a liquid flavouring to give a strong aroma. The exact compositions of flavourings are the flavour houses’ proprietary information. However, the flavourings in Earl Grey include a small amount of bergamot extract and other natural flavouring chemicals and synthetically produced flavour materials.

So, I have replied (a week ago now) to ask what percentage of the flavouring is real bergamot? No answer yet although I suspect that will also be “the flavour houses’ proprietary information”. I will keep you posted on that one. My next email will question the cost compared to the real. (UPDATE BELOW).

A small amount of bergamot extract & other natural flavouring chemicals & synthetically produced flavouring materials

I figure if they are using artificial chemical flavouring then they ought not to be charging the very high price they do. I always paid more knowing that of course bergamot will be expensive and if I wanted that flavour it was worth the price. So there you go, this is what bloody corporations do (and if you read my posts you will know I don’t generally swear but on this occasion I am. I’m kind of gutted really). They’ve cut the cost of production (and no, chemicals won’t be dearer than real bergamot otherwise they wouldn’t be going to the trouble of sourcing them) and pocketed the difference they made (from we customers). We’ve learned to identify MSG by its various other abbreviated names, however in this instance, with the artificially tweaked bergamot, we have no idea what we are drinking chemical wise, plus it is just not the real deal.

So … I don’t like the fact that I’ve been drinking bergamot flavoured chemicals, especially after recently reading of the great health benefits of Earl Grey which would only be

Cup of Earl Grey Chemicals anybody?

present in real bergamot, (relaxing and sleep inducing were two of them) and I don’t like the fact I’ve been ripped off. If I didn’t love Earl Grey so much I’d stop drinking it. Although that may still be on the tables. I’m just weighing it all up at the moment.  I’m asking myself also, what other products have chemical flavouring rather than the real thing? It surely proves we must read the fine print. Please do watch ‘The Corporation’ movie. You’ll understand why and how corporations can subtly mislead us.

UPDATE: The next reply I got from Twinings was 14/7/2018:

“The percentage of flavouring components that are derived from bergamot in the Earl Grey blend is 4.8%.

We are unable to give a list of other ingredients as this is proprietary information.”

I then replied again on 15/7/2017:

Hello and thank you for your reply.
I would have to express my disappointment that we are paying a lot for Earl Grey tea on the understanding really that it is expensive because of the bergamot content, yet it is only a mere 4.8%.
I would really like to know how long since your company has substituted chemicals for the real thing. And if we are purchasing chemical substitutes for bergamot the tea should therefore be cheaper. I don’t imagine the chemicals will be dearer than real bergamot or your company would not be using them.
And about the chemicals that are proprietary info, how do we the consumers choose the chemicals we ingest if your company is not willing to disclose them?
Would you please tell me when the content changed from bergamot to chemicals?
Kind regards

I have heard nothing since. I expect I won’t be either.

Note also, the concentration of chemical flavouring has gone from 3% (going by the first box I saved around 1-2 years ago) to 4.5% (the box I now have) to according to the manufacturer’s email, 4.8%. When, I wonder, did it rise to 4.8% given the last email was a year ago & current labeling is only 4.5%?

The other million dollar question is: how much is ‘a small amount’ of bergamot? It must be very small I imagine, given they are not saying.

If you’re for knowing what’s in your food, do drop them a line & ask the pertinent questions as I have. Here is their email:







11 thoughts on “Cup of chemicals anybody? to all the lovers of Earl Grey tea – the REAL bergamot content is ‘very small’ & the rest is chemical & natural flavouring”

  1. I just sent two emails to Twinnings about this. After finding out the truth about essence flavored seltzer, I realized by the vague ingredients on the Twinnings boxes they may be using similar synthesized protiens. You have answered that question. From now on I am going to drink only black tea and make my own chai mixture. Also, I will looked into affordable Earl Grey that does not use synthetic flavors. Our gov’t needs to update their antiquated definition of natural flavoring. Now you can take plant protiens and make anything you want, and all the integrity is lost. All this virtual reality adds up to something not healthy or good. It might be me, but I may have been prompted to question the Earl Grey tea from a sense of dissatisfaction in the taste and feel. Earl Grey should make you alert and relaxed…. Maybe it’s me, but fooling our bodies and minds must have an effect that is less than good. It certainly is not true, nor is it right that we are not explicitly informed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lovely to hear from a fellow earl grey fan jazzalternative! Nobody has responded to this one before, nor has there been a lot of interest. I pulled out the boxes I saved of these the other day & note (sadly did not keep the date but must be all of 1-2 yrs ago) the earlier box says 3% bergamot flavouring. The later ones 4.5%. What’s the bet that it will increase some more over time til it is all flavouring, no bergamot whatsoever? I also note some cups you literally cannot taste the bergamot at all which puzzles me. I’ve been using two bags to taste it! Keep me posted anyway. I have considered just trying other brands. Very sad really.


      1. Taylor’s and Bigelow are just tea and bergamot oil. I just ordered box of 50 bags of Taylor’s for just $5 on Amazon. It will probably be fine. Even using two, that’s a bargain. Twinnings claims to have invented Earl Grey. They don’t seem to be very deep.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ok thanks. Don’t know if they send tea to NZ. I’ll take a look. There are other brands here but the only one I’ve tried doesn’t taste like bergamot at all. Let me know how it goes anyway. Be keen to hear 🙂


  2. I bought a small box of Earl Grey from Australia this year and was surprised to see the one leaf out of four leaves for “strength”. I assumed it was for caffeine. I took a closer look at the box and was also dismayed to see that bergamot essential oil was no longer in the ingredient list, but replaced by “flavouring” as Pam notes above.

    I don’t seem to get that deep earthiness from these brewed teabags now, and the bergamot no longer carries through in subsequent brewings.

    Pam you hit all the points on the head. Thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge.


    1. So good to hear your feedback Connie!! I did love my Earl Grey but yes, as you say the earthiness has gone. Some cups the flavour isn’t even there or it requires two bags to get the hint of fake bergamot. The very annoying thing is we are still charged a very high price for an ingredient that isn’t even there. I really must get back to them again as they never did respond to my very last comment on that matter. I note Dilmah is the same, theirs is just flavouring as well. Very sad all round really. 😦


  3. Hi Pam
    I have just stumbled on your article while researching earl grey tea toxicity. For twenty years I have drunk earl grey tea and over these years have suffered leg and foot cramps which have become increasingly worse, particularly if I eat vegetables. Someone recently mentioned to me that earl grey tea can be toxic due to the bergamot in it. Finally I decided to google what she may mean and found an article…..The Lancet, Earl Grey Tea Intoxication. I stopped having the earl grey tea and my leg cramps have stopped. From what I can gather, the bergamot acts as a potassium channel blocker.
    I spoke to the person who mentioned about the toxicity to me and she said a friend of hers was experiencing restless leg syndrome caused by the tea. Am wondering if that is why they are substituting the bergamot.

    Anyway, I thought you may find this interesting. Kind regards MaureenGraham


    1. Thanks Maureen. By coincidence, I have just gone through a similar train of events with my own legs!! I traced this to decaf coffee. So I did then reflect back on the chemical ‘Bergamot’ they being unnamed chemicals (their secret). I had heard that excessive amounts of tea & coffee will block magnesium absorption & cutting back definitely diminished the cramps. It’s quite a tightrope isn’t it? The process of elimination I mean. And reinforces the need for organic as who knows what is in our food any more? On that note I had decided a few days back to find organic Earl Grey with the real bergamot in it. Thanks for your info. I will have a look


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