Cup of hot tea

English Breakfast vs Earl Grey

Two of the most popular tea blends in the world are English Breakfast and Earl Grey. While they are both black teas, they have different flavors, different levels of caffeine, and their tastes are benefitted by adding different things to them. 

We will explain the main differences and benefits of these two wonderful beverages to help you choose between them.

English Breakfast vs Earl Grey

While having some things in common, these two teas are different in some ways that are subtle, and some that can be very striking.

Pouring a cup of English Breakfast Tea

Similarities Between English Breakfast and Earl Grey

  • Generally known as being made from black tea.
  • Both are high in caffeine (as opposed to other teas).
  • Two of the most popular styles in the UK.

Differences Between English Breakfast and Earl Grey

  • The flavor and scent of the added Bergamot will always give Earl Grey away.
  • Earl Grey can be made with only one variety of tea leaf, but English Breakfast will always be a blend.
  • English Breakfast tea has a stronger flavor and is more astringent.
  • Earl Grey tea has a more mild flavor and a smoother texture.
  • While having caffeine, English Breakfast normally has more. This may depend on how much dry bergamot is added to Earl Grey.
  • Lemon goes well with Earl Grey, not as much with English Breakfast.
  • Milk is almost always required for English Breakfast tea, while Earl Grey may not need it.

English Breakfast tea is heavier, has a stronger flavor, and has more caffeine. Earl Grey is a more versatile tea that can be consumed by itself, as well as later in the day.

English Breakfast Tea

Breakfast teas are known the world over as strong, flavorful blends that are meant to be enjoyed in the morning. Drinking a cup of this will especially be appreciated with a heavy meal like you would normally find in a classic English breakfast

English Breakfast Tea is typically a blend of two black teas, with no flavored additives included. The different black tea leaves used can differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, and can even be different between seasons. It is the job of a company’s tea master to ensure that the flavor is consistent, batch after batch, even when using different types of leaves.

Earl Grey tea tin cans

Tea Leaves Normally Blended to Make English Breakfast Tea

English Breakfast is always a blend of different varieties of black tea leaves. At times there are only two varieties, but three varieties are commonly seen, and some manufacturers will even use more. Since there are no specific rules or limitations, they may even be different from one box to the next.

  • Assam – A strong, black, malty tea from India.
  • Ceylon – Originally from Sri Lanka, Ceylon tea has maltiness like Assam but is generally less bold.
  • Keemun – This complex and rounded black tea from China adds fullness without astringency.
  • Kenyan – Black tea from Kenya and other East African regions are known for richness and strength of flavor.

Common Additions to English Breakfast Tea

Because English Breakfast has such a strong and ofter bitter taste, many tea drinkers like to mix other items into it to tone it down a bit. Dairy products can also add a touch of a smooth mouthfeel.

Milk, cream, and other forms of dairy are common additions to a hot cup of English Breakfast tea. Black teas, being 100% oxidized, often display a heavy astringency. To counteract that, smooth and creamy dairy products, or even replacements like almond milk, will prevent your mouth from feeling too dry.

Sugar and sweeteners work well with English Breakfast. The flavor can be bitter when first poured into your cup. The level of bitterness depends on both the quality of leaves as well as the length of brewing, but you should expect at least a little bit to be present. 

Honey or agave, often used as more healthy alternatives to sugar or artificial sugar substitutes, are not normally recommended to add to an English Breakfast tea. In the end, you should add what you enjoy, but these suggestions can help you along the right path.

Cup of hot tea

Earl Grey Tea

As opposed to English Breakfast tea, Earl Grey is normally made from only one variety of tea. It is generally milder, with a soft flavor, and a citrus fragrance. The thing that separates it from a pure black tea is the addition of bergamot.

The bergamot orange is a sour citrus fruit with an extremely fragrant skin. While the majority of bergamot is grown in Southern Europe, it can be grown all over the world. Extraction of oils from the skin leaves you with a potent addition that adds a citrus scent and flavor to Earl Grey tea.

While the traditional Chinese method of flavoring teas such as Jasmine tea consists of drying the leaves among fruit and flowers, Earl Grey is produced by either the addition of dried bergamot into the leaves or by infusing oil into the already dried leaves. Both of these processes are easier and less expensive for manufacturers to produce.

Tea Leaves Used for Earl Grey Tea

Almost all of Earl Grey is made with black tea, but there are some exceptions. Oolong, green tea leaves, and others have all been mixed with bergamot to try to make something new. The classic flavor, however, will always be from black tea leaves.

Originally, virtually all Earl Grey was made from the Chinese variety of Keemun tea, a mellow black tea that does not normally call for milk. As Earl Grey became more popular in the UK and US, tea drinkers wanted a stronger flavor, so much of the world’s production switched to Ceylon leaves from India.

There are caffeine-free versions of Earl Grey that are made as tisanes, adding bergamot to leaves such as rooibos and honeybush.

London tea tin

Common Additions to Earl Grey Tea

The overall flavor of Earl Grey sometimes calls for milk, sometimes does not. It will depend on the manufacturer and which variety of black tea leaves they used. Higher quality Earl Grey will generally not need any additions of milk or sugar to smooth it out, but that choice is up to the drinker.

Lemon, however, is always recommended with Earl Grey. The addition of a little different citrus brings out the infused bergamot in a manner that cannot be replicated in any other way.

Who Should Drink English Breakfast Tea

Those who like a strong, powerful tea with a lot of caffeine will appreciate English Breakfast tea over most other British teas. Anyone who is insistent on adding milk, dairy, or non-dairy creamers to tea will find that the flavor of English Breakfast tea can stand up to it.

On the other hand, for those who like to drink their tea black, they may find that the astringency of English Breakfast may be too much for them.

Who Should Drink Earl Grey Tea

Tea drinkers with an appreciation for citrus overtones in their tea will love Earl Grey. This is a more mellow tea, which often does not need any additional flavoring other than the squirt of a lemon.

In some lower quality Earl Grey teas, there may be too much bergamot oil added. In these cases, drinkers may find the taste cloying – but do not give up. Try another brand and you may find your perfect tea.


Considering the small number of similarities and how many differences there are between English Breakfast and Earl Grey teas, there is no real winner between the two. It will all come down to personal preference, whether you like your tea either stronger or more versatile.

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