Last month I wrote an overview on Calabrian food and mentioned that, among other things, we boast the beautiful bergamot orange.
And this caught my friend’s attention.
Laura, an avid tea drinker and fellow expat in southern Italy was interested-and I do believe a tad jealous-and wanted to explore the bella bergamot.
So, let’s welcome her, shall we?
Those of you who have traveled to Italy will understand when I say that Italy is a coffee country. The morning traditionally starts with a cappuccino and the rest of the day punctuated with short, strong shots of espresso often served standing up at a bar. While this is a fine way to stay caffeinated, I’ve always preferred a nice cup of tea.
Yet, ordering a cup of tea in Italy makes me feel, well, like a tourist. And since enjoying a cup of tea also requires much more time than the average 30 seconds an Italian needs to enjoy a cup of espresso, I usually keep my tea preferences between myself and my large stockpile of tea at home.
So imagine my surprise when I discovered recently that bergamot, the distinctive scent that flavors Earl Grey tea (one of my favorites!), comes from bergamot oranges. And where, you might ask, are bergamot oranges grown? Just down south! South, that is, from where I live on the Amalfi Coast in Campania. I’ve never associated tea and Italy in any way, but, as it turns out, Calabria is the only place in the world where the climate is just right for bergamot oranges to grow naturally.
You’ll find groves of bergamot oranges growing along a stretch of the Calabrian coastline from Villa San Giovanni to Gioiosa Ionica, wrapping around the toe of Italy’s boot from the Tyrrhenian to the Ionian Seas. These very particular citrus trees sure have a good taste when it comes to location!
But before you go peeling and biting into a bergamot orange, you should know that these pear-shaped, yellow fruits are thought to be a natural cross between a lime and a sour orange. This makes them quite sour to eat fresh. The juice and zest of the skin are often used in candies, liqueurs and pastries. The essential oil extracted from the skin of the bergamot is also used for perfumes, cosmetics and, of course, Earl Grey tea!
Calabria is a region of Italy I’ve longed to travel to and discover since I moved to Italy, and now I have just one more reason to lure me south. Next time as I sip my cup of Earl Grey tea, instead of feeling out of place in Italy’s coffee culture, I’ll be wondering instead if the bergamot in my cup of tea came from the beautiful coastline of Calabria.
Laura Thayer is an art historian and freelance writer living on the Amalfi Coast in Campania, Italy. She writes about travel for MNUI travel insurance and blogs about life on the Amalfi Coast at her own site Ciao Amalfi.
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