Friday, February 10, 2012

Bergamotto

I like Earl Grey and Lady Grey teas; they are probably my favorite teas after the standard Darjeeling. Earl Grey and Lady Grey are flavored with bergamot, and while I had a vague notion that bergamot was a citrus fruit, I knew nothing about it. So I've been looking things up. There are a number of plants called bergamot; the one used here is indeed a citrus fruit, Citrus bergamia. It is generally thought to have originated as a hybrid of lemon and sour orange, which gives a sense of what it tastes like on its own, and thus is found in fruit or pulp in almost nothing, although I have seen recipes for marmalades, preserves, and candies. The oils, however, are highly prized. Besides Earl Grey, the oil is a standard component of eau de cologne. The fruit is relatively difficult to find -- the overwhelming bulk of true bergamot is grown in a few thousand acres of southern Italy. It will grow elsewhere, but the quality of the oil is universally regarded as inferior -- it's the magic of the soil of Calabria, some mix of limestone and other minerals, that seems to bring out the flavor and aroma that has made the fruit's oil famous. Such local subtleties are not to be underestimated.

In any case, that explains the refreshing character of the scent of Earl Grey, and perhaps also the fact that Lady Grey, despite adding lemon and orange peel, always seems slightly milder.


3 comments:

  1. Catherine Hodge7:18 PM

    Lady Grey is one of my favorite teas -- I rather like that it's not as strong as Earl Grey, as the bergamot hit is sometimes a bit overwhelming to the taste, though the smell is delightful. But even more than Lady Grey, I loved Trader Joe's Duchess Grey, which had a stronger, brighter citrus hit. It was a wonderful tea, and I drank it by the boxful. Alas! Trader Joe's is discontinuing Duchess Grey, and I wasn't even able to lay in one last box. 

    http://www.thekitchn.com/favorite-new-tea-trader-joes-d-153330

    Obscure Earl Grey factoid: Captain Picard was a great Earl Grey drinker, as anyone knows who's ever seen an episode of ST:TNG, but Patrick Stewart himself hates it and is annoyed that people constantly offer him cups of the stuff.

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  2. branemrys7:47 PM

    That is funny. It reminds me of an interview with Leonard Nimoy in which he said that he gets taken on tours of labs and the scientists talk to him as if he were Spock and familiar with their field; he just walks around with them not understanding half or more of what they are talking about, and then says sagely, "Well, it looks like you are heading in the right direction!" And that, he said, seems to work.

    I like Lady Grey especially with breakfast -- nothing better to wake up with. While I like it hot, one thing I've found Earl Grey is good for is iced tea -- since iced tea is more diluted, the bergamot is not as strong, but it adds an extra briskness to it.

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  3. Catherine Hodge1:22 PM

    There's a tea shop in downtown Round Rock (or there was a year ago) called Friar Tuck's Pantry, run by British expats. It has a fairly large selection of loose teas, and the proprietors call people "luv" and speak with a delightful North Country accent. There's often a fair amount of turnover in that little downtown, but that spot has been a tea shop through several iterations. I can't remember the name of the place that was there before Friar Tuck's, but they too carried lots of loose teas, one of which was named Russian Caravan. I received an ounce or so of it as a birthday present one year. It was knock-your-socks-off pungent, with a taste that could only be described as Russian Barnyard. However, most of their offerings weren't so offensive. 

    The current tea shop carries Lady Grey, but I think it goes under some other name -- they had to hunt around and look things up when I asked for it last. Usually I'm a Twinings drinker, though. Their English breakfast is my standard.

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