Tetley Earl Grey Review

To me, the name Tetley is synonymous with a proper, classic cup of tea. 

And I’m sure the rest of the British public would agree. 

But would I say they’re my favourite brand? Well, no, honestly. I’m not their biggest fan.

Especially when put toe-to-toe with the likes of PG Tips – Tetley’s biggest foe. 

Of course, Tetley has grown a lot over the years. 

They’ve branched out, releasing more than just bog-standard black tea. 

This includes redbush, green, fruit, herbal, and of course, blends, like my beloved Earl Grey. They even have a vanilla and decaf variety. 

However, I’d be lying if I said that I was expecting big things. But who knows, maybe my taste buds have changed since then.

So, putting my preconceived notions to one side. I’ve decided to review the Tetley Earl Grey String and Tag teabag blend. 

Did I change my mind? Well, let’s see.

But before we put this classic British tea brand through its paces. Let’s take a further look at the makers behind Tetley tea.

Tetley Earl Grey string and tag tea bag and blend.
The Tetley Earl Grey blend is available in string and tag tea bag form.

That’s Better. That’s Tetley

Founded in 1837, Huddersfield (UK), the Tetley brothers (Joseph & Edward) didn’t start selling tea until a little later on. 

After moving away from their humble Yorkshire roots in 1856, the company became known as Joseph Tetley & Co. 

Their new place of business was now located mere yards away from the London Tea Auction Rooms at East India House. 

It wasn’t until after WWII and tea rationing ended (almost 100 years later), that Tetley introduced the tea bag to the UK after discovering it in the USA.

They were the first tea makers to do so. And it’s probably one of the reasons why they became a household name. At least in the UK.

However, it wasn’t until their signature round tea bags hit the market in 1989 that the brand we all know was born. 

Gaffer introduces Tetley’s signature round tea bag.

They later adopted the name Tetley Group in 1995.

And that’s pretty much how it all began.

The Tetley Tea Folk

Of course, I couldn’t talk about Tetley and their brand without mentioning Gaffer, Sydney, and the other Tetley Tea Folk gang. 

If you grew up in the UK during the 70s-90s, you’ll know what I’m talking about. 

For those who didn’t, they were the Tetley mascot from 1973 to 2001. 

They comprised of seven characters – Gaffer, Sydney, Maurice, Clarence, Gordon, Tina, and little Archie.

These lovable animated factory workers featured heavily in Tetley’s advertising campaigns. With Gaffer (the OG), appearing as early as 1973.

That’s until Tetley decided to go another route and gave them the old heave-ho. 

Instead opting for a fresh, younger approach to attract a new generation of tea drinkers.

Unfortunately for Tetley, this saw their sales rapidly decline.

So, in 2010 the Tea Folk made a comeback to reprise their role and once again reclaim Britain’s tea making throne. 

This includes a partnership with one of the nation’s favourite soaps, Coronation Street, where the Tetley Tea Folk would show up before and after every ad break. 

Great Taste Awards 2016

In 2016, Tetley entered the great taste awards. That’s one year after Ahmad Tea

They won one star (Simply Delicious) for their Earl Grey blend. A rating that only 25% of entries are awarded. 

This was along with their The Blend Collection Kenyan Gold, Green Tea Mango and Passion Fruit, and Super Green HEART Forest Fruits teas. All of which also got one star.

Each entry is blind tested by a select group of buyers, chefs, cooks, food critics, restaurateurs, retailers, and writers.

So, that’s a good sign. At least I hope so.

A Brewtiful Unboxing

The design is quite modern. Not one Tetley Tea Folk member in sight!

The packaging and design is unlike anything I’ve seen from Tetley before. 

The first thing that strikes me is the grey, dusty blue colour.  This is closely followed by the lighter blue pattern in the background

Compared to Tetley’s usual styling, it’s quite grown up, calming, and modern. Especially with the matt/satin finish on the box, which is made from good quality card.

Sadly, opening the box isn’t as easy as some of the other Earl Grey brands I’ve reviewed. 

Like the others, it can be opened both vertically or horizontally. 

There are two different ways to open the box and get to the teabags.

However, unlike Ahmad Tea or Twinings, both options are met with fiddly perforated lines. Something I find rather irksome. 

Not only that but when opened horizontally, there’s no nice branding on the side to match. 

Instead, it looks like an afterthought. The nutritional values, ingredients, and adverts for their other teas are there instead (also vertical).

Not ideal for those who like to stack their tea boxes horizontally. The box is going to look a little out of place. 

And, if you want to have the branding at the front, the opening will be at the back. This makes accessing your tea a little troublesome.

How to open the Tetley Earl Grey box.
The side opening on the Tetley Earl Grey packaging isn’t as neat and clean as other brands.

Is this a big deal? Well, no, not really. It’s more of a small annoyance. And, I’m probably being too much of a pedant.

But, do I think the packaging could be better thought out? Yes, absolutely.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m a sucker for the little touches.

Tetley, if you’re reading this, you can do better! 

But hey, it works. And that’s the main thing.

String and Tag Tea Bags

Tetley Earl Grey tea string and tag tea bags.
Tetley Earl Grey tea bags are Rainforest Alliance Certified.

Each tea bag is individually foil packed. 

It has a similar sheen to the plain blue band that wraps around the main box.

The material feels sturdy and like it would travel well.

The writing is clear, big, and easy to read. Overall, the font is quite modern.

On the front, Tetley’s proudly display their Great Taste Award (2016) badge, and their Rainforest Alliance certification.

A light and refreshing tea with the citrus flavour of zesty bergamot.


This is accompanied by a brief description of the Tetley Earl Grey tea blend.

On the back Tetley provide some basic brewing instructions (3-4 mins). 

TemperatureWater QuantitySteep Time
100 celsius (Boiling)Unspecified3-4 minutes
Tetley Earl Grey Tea (String & Tag Bag) Recommended Serving Instructions

So in all, pretty straightforward.

Tetley Earl Grey tea steep instructions on the back of the packet.
The brewing instructions are basic but accurate.

Earl Grey Aroma

As soon as that hot water hits the cup, a sweet, citrus scent is unleashed.

Fragrant aroma, refreshing taste


The aroma subtly flirts with the smell of melted orange popsicle and freshly cut grass. Something that reminds me of summertime as a kid. 

The floral fragrance doesn’t come through as strong as Ahmad Tea or even Twinings. 
However, it’s there. Almost like a delicate Jasmine tea. 

Strength and Taste

Okay, so here it goes. My first taste of Tetley’s Earl Grey tea. 

And oh, wait a minute. I’m actually pleasantly surprised. 

This doesn’t taste like Tetley at all. But a rather tasty Earl Grey blend.

Light, delicate, and ever so zesty.

Hmm… yes. I’ve decided that I quite like it. 

My only complaint? It could be a little more floral and less heavy on the citrus. 

Brew Time Test

How long to brew and steep Tetley Earl Grey tea bags.

Equipment: Kettle, Mug, Measuring Jug, Thermometer, Stopwatch, Bottled Water, and a Tetley Earl Grey Tea Bag.

Method: Using a stopwatch, I tested the Earl Grey tea at different time intervals. I noted down any taste, flavour, and colour differences along the way.

And here are the results.

1 min…

Right away, the water turns a rich red colour. For comparison’s sake, it’s darker than Twinings but lighter than Ahmad Tea which uses a Kenyan tea base. 

There’s a slight floral smell. But it’s definitely too light to drink – unless you enjoy fragranced hot water. 

2 mins…

The floral taste begins to develop, while the citrus aroma starts to come through. 

3 mins…

No notable change in taste, smell, or flavour.

4 mins…

The citrus taste starts to intensify. The colour is a little darker in tone while the tea smell starts to shine.

It’s perfectly drinkable right now. But there is a bit of an artificial citrus aftertaste.

5 mins…

The balance is spot on. The citrus, floral, and tea base all blend well together. 

Thankfully the artificial aftertaste has dispersed. 

10 mins…

Not much has changed. Although there’s a slightly bitter aftertaste now. But not enough to be unpleasant to drink.

Oh hell, let’s leave it in…

Like Twinings, it’s okay to leave the bag in. It’s a little stronger than Twinings, but still perfectly drinkable. Unlike Ahmad Tea’s Earl Grey which coats the mouth. 

For me, I think 4-5 minutes is where Tetley Earl Grey hits that sweet spot. 

So not far off the 3-4 minute steeping time that Tetley recommends.

Re-Steeping Tetley Earl Grey (String & Tag)

Can you re-steep Tetley Earl Grey tea?

As I mentioned, Tetley Earl Grey is quite a light blend. 

I found the 4-5 minute mark the best steeping time. This allowed the flavour to shine and reach that perfect balance. 

As this tea seemed stronger than Twinings Earl Grey blend, I thought re-steeping wouldn’t be a problem.

So I decided to steep the Tetley Earl Grey for 5 minutes. Then, using the same teabag and a fresh cup of water, I re-steeped it for another 5 minutes. 

Tetley Earl Grey tea - First steep versus second steep.
I steeped the teabag for 5 minutes, followed by a 5 minute re-steep.

As you can see, this produced a rather weak (and lightly scented) cup of tea.

If you plan to reuse your teabag, I recommend doing a shorter initial steep. 

But in my opinion, you’ll only end up with two rather disappointing teas. 

So unless you’re a fan of weak tea, I say live a little and just pop in a new bag.

Inside the Tea Bag


  • Black Tea (93%)*
  • Bergamot Flavouring (7%)

*On the Tetley website, it states 92% Black Tea. However, the packaging lists it as 93%. Either this is a typo or the recipe may have changed recently.

Inside a Tetley Earl Grey tea bag.

It’s 2021. People care more about what they’re putting in their bodies than ever before.

So, you’d think by now that companies would be more specific with their ingredients, right? 

Well, no. Sadly, Tetley is yet another tea maker that likes to leave things ambiguous. 

Yes, it’s black tea. But which type? 

Keemun, Ceylons, Keyan, Assam… all the above?

I’ll admit it. Tetley has a lot of information about its suppliers, sustainability, and even its packaging. 

But if you want to know what specific type of tea they use in their Earl Grey blend, you’ll be left disappointed. 

Orange Pekoe

I tried to do a bit of digging, but the most I could find was the mention of Orange Pekoe.  

Which turns out, isn’t a type of tea at all. But instead, a way of grading the quality of harvested tea leaves. Most commonly black tea.

If you think this has anything to do with the colour or flavour of the tea, though, you’d be wrong. 

There’s no actual orange in ‘Orange Pekoe’ tea. Instead, the inclusion of orange in the name is likely to do with its Royal Dutch roots. 

And despite the ‘Pekoe’ (also known as ‘Pecco’) part being a Chinese term, this tea grading system isn’t just used in China. But other East Asian countries such as India and Sri Lanka. 

I’ve even seen it used for Kenyan tea.

The term Orange Pekoe (OP) is often used in North American branding to describe generic black tea, which would explain why I only saw this on Tetley Canada and not the UK website.

However, while Orange Pekoe is considered one of the highest grades of black tea, this is only part of the story. 

There are several grades within that category. 

A close-up look at what's inside a Tetley Earl Grey string and tag tea bag.

If you look at the contents of the bag, the leaves seem to be broken up. This most likely makes it a BOP (Broken Orange Pekoe) which is predominately used in teabags.

While a teabag may say that it contains Orange Pekoe, it is likely mixed with fannings and dust – lower grade tea.

According to Wikipedia, the main sources of Broken Orange Pekoe are Assam, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Southern India, Java, and China.

So taking the above into account, I’m guessing that the Tetley Earl Grey tea base is either Keemun (Qimen), Ceylons, or a mix of both. 

But don’t quote me on that. 

There’s also the fact that the tea base isn’t very strong.

And when compared to both the Twinings and Ahmad Tea leaves, the colour and size of the Tetley blend is a closer match to the former. 

A comparison of Ahmad Tea, Twinings, and Tetley tea leaves.
A comparison of Ahmad Tea, Twinings, and Tetley Earl Grey teabag blends.

Twinings, of course, uses the traditional Keemun and possibly Ceylons too. 

Ahmad Tea, on the other hand, uses Kenyan leaves which is a much finer and darker mix in comparison. 

Bergamot Flavouring

When it comes to the Bergamot itself, Tetley keeps this equally vague. Listing it as simply ‘flavouring’ in the ingredients.

When examining the tea bag contents up close, you can see white specs of the flavouring disperse in among the leaves.

They aren’t as uniform as the other Earl Grey flavourings I’ve come across. Some are similar to a rock salt consistency, while others are long and cylindrical in appearance. 

Singling one out, it’s malleable like the Ahmad Tea flavouring. But a little harder and less sticky. 

Upon tasting one of the crystals, you get a sweet and citrusy taste to begin. I’d liken it to an orange starburst. Not long after, this is followed by a soft, floral hit at the end.

A close-up of Tetley Earl Grey tea bag contents.
As far as I can tell, there’s no difference between the two different flavouring shapes.

As experienced when drinking this tea. The floral isn’t too overpowering and it certainly doesn’t linger. Instead, the citrus prevails as the dominant flavour overall. 

In all, it’s a pleasant taste. So much so, that if they made it in candy form, I’d probably buy it.

Nutrition Information

Typical ValuesPer 100ml Brewed Black Tea (without milk)*
Energy1kcal (4kJ)
of which sugars0g
* Based on one 2g tea bag, brewed with 100ml (3.4fl oz) water.

Are Tetley Earl Grey Tea Bags Plastic-Free?

Along with several other tea makers, Tetley signed the UK Plastics Pact in 2018. 

While Tetley is working hard to limit the use of plastic in their products, some of their teabags still contain trace amounts of PP.

This is used to heat seal their teabags. There may also be small amounts in their string.

To put this in perspective, PP accounts for approximately 1% (0.04g) of plastic according to Tetley. 

Their aim to eventually replace PP with PLA, a naturally derived bioplastic made from plant-based materials. 

Until then, Tetley recommends that you rip open your teabag and empty the contents into your compost. The bag can be thrown away in your general waste.

Final Thoughts…

Tetley’s Earl Grey is a massive step away from the kind of tea my Corrie loving gran would serve me. 

You know the type. The sort you’d drink with a generous lashing of milk, sugar, and if I was lucky, a choccy biccy on the side.

I’d say in terms of strength, flavour, and leaf consistency, it sits somewhere in between Twinings and Ahmad Tea. 

It’s a little stronger than Twinings, but definitely not as strong as Ahmad Tea which uses a rich Kenyan leaf base.

I started out thinking I wouldn’t like this tea, but overall I was impressed. I like the flavouring of this blend. And it’s the type of Earl Grey tea that you can easily drink throughout the day.

It’s light, refreshing, and well-balanced with a generous yet delicate helping of bergamot flavouring.

Tetley Earl Grey Review
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