Earl Grey is probably the most recognized tea blend in the world. It is flavored by Bergamot oil to deliver a calming and aromatic citrus character.
The oil comes from bergamot orange (Citrus Bergamia) which is a citrus fruit grown chiefly in Italy. The tree yields a yellow-green pear-shaped fruit, the peel of which is valued by the flavoring and perfume industries for its essential oil.
Many people mistakenly believe that the flavoring comes from Monarda Didyma which is a perennial plant native to North America. Common names for this plant include bee balm, horsemint, Oswego tea and bergamot, the latter inspired by the fragrance of the leaves, which reminds some folk of bergamot orange.
The name, Oswego tea, comes from the Oswego Native Americans in present-day Oswego County in upstate New York. The Oswego people would brew a tea out of the leaves of the bee balm plant, a process they taught to the European settlers. After the Boston Tea Party, when American revolutionaries tossed tea (Camelia Sinensis) into Boston Harbor to protest the British tea tax, people began drinking Oswego tea as a homegrown, decidedly un-British alternative because they did not want to pay the taxes.
It gets another of its names, bee balm, from a popular salve derived from its resin that can be used to soothe bee stings. If you get a cut or scratch while gardening, bee balm is a natural antiseptic. Simply tear off a leaf or small portion of the stem and apply the liquid inside to your minor cuts and scrapes.
Here is a recipe for Oswego tea. After brewing a pot, cannot recommend it. Definitely not my cup of tea. The colonists must have been desperate to drink it. The same goes for the jelly made from the petals. It is a beautiful color but tasted awful. Well, that was our opinion.
The individual petals of bee balm flowers pull out easily and can be dried to make a beautiful bright red tea. In season, the petals can also be used fresh. The tea is a digestive aid that helps relieve nausea, upset stomach and gas.
Like most herbal teas, it takes a bit longer to steep than a standard black tea, around 15 minutes. Try 1 tablespoon of dried flower petals or 2 tablespoons of fresh petals to every cup of water. The water should be just below the boiling point because herbal flowers are a bit more delicate than teas made with roots or stem.
In addition to the Classic Earl Grey, The Larkin Tea Company carries: Earl Blue, Earl Grey Creme de la Creme, Smokey Grey and the new Tango with the Earl.