Here on the East Coast, we’re already experiencing the first whispers of fall. It’s getting cloudier, rainier and drearier in the best possible way. For those who struggled to endure the hottest, stickiest days of summer (without air conditioning) as I did, the brisk breeze of autumn is a welcome departure from the constant reminder that our earth is slowly becoming uninhabitable.
The coming of autumn means that I can finally ditch my signature summer anxiety-inducing cold brew and find new, more interesting ways to pump caffeine into my bloodstream. One of my favorite methods of ingesting everybody’s favorite stimulant during the colder months of the year is the London fog, a tea-based drink that makes me feel, against all odds, like a respectable Victorian wife (but without the whole drowning-myself-at-the-thought-of-continuing-to-live-under-the-suffocating-expectations-of-the-patriarchy thing).
But what even is a London fog, anyway?
It’s actually quite a simple drink. It all starts with steeped Earl Grey tea. If you’ve never had Earl Grey before, you should definitely try it—it has all the richness of your typical black tea, but it’s also infused with bergamot, a type of citrus that’s not dissimilar to a typical orange. Although Earl Grey has cemented itself as a favorite of the Brits, it’s still relatively easy to find in the States—or in Canada. Because as it turns out, the London fog doesn’t actually come from London at all. In fact, it’s not even from that side of the world. Rather, the London fog reportedly hails from Vancouver, Canada.
Legend has it that a pregnant patron sat down at a café in the city in the mid-1990s (several cafés, including the Buckwheat Café, have claimed responsibility) and asked for an alternative to coffee. She received a hot cup of Earl Grey tea diluted with steamed milk and flavored with vanilla syrup. The rest is history. Word of the drink soon spread, and now, it’s on café menus all over the world. (In fact, in Scotland, it’s more fittingly referred to as a Vancouver fog.)
Essentially, this drink is just a simple tea latte, but I’m here to tell you that it may just be the ideal drink to enjoy on fall mornings. First of all, it still packs enough caffeine to get you up and out of bed, but it’s far from strong enough to give you the jitters unless you’re just really, really sensitive to caffeine. Secondly, it’s relatively mild, so it’s easy to make yourself a whole pot of the stuff and drink it before lunchtime without getting tired of the taste. The bergamot and the vanilla syrup add just the right touch of flavor and expression without ever feeling overwhelming, and the bitterness of the tea is balanced out with the addition of that creamy steamed milk. (I personally feel that whole, cashew or oat milk are your best options here.)
This drink can be fantastic at any time of year, but autumn is when it really shines. Maybe it’s the reference to the weather—this drink, despite its origins, does really seem like it would be at home on a foggy London day, but you can recreate the effect on a foggy (or even not-so-foggy) day wherever in the world you happen to be drinking it. There’s a lightness to it that makes it palatable even as you’re simultaneously inhaling the aromas from your pumpkin spice-scented candle. And even though it does contain some caffeine, it also feels relaxing, something you’d sip slowly while looking out the window at the leaves changing colors.
Most of all, the pumpkin spice latte has, over the past few years, really lost its thunder. For a while, it was the deeply anticipated beverage drop of the season, and then it became a joke. Now, it’s just a staple of American fall culture in a way that’s still delicious but admittedly less exciting than it used to be when it felt novel or divisive.
If you ask me, it’s time we move on and claim a new autumnal drink for ourselves. The London fog, with its confusing name and its understated but sophisticated flavor profile, seems well-poised to make a newfound mark on international café culture. Whether you make it at home (it’s actually super easy to make as long as you have a teapot and, optionally, a kettle) or order it from your favorite local café (any café worth frequenting will know how to make it), the London fog could very well become the new essential drink of the season.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.