Bosc, Bartlett, Concord, Nashi, D’Anjou…there are almost enough varieties of pears to rival tea! A homage to one of our favourite seasonal fruits and the history of tea alike, this week’s Tea Journal entry is all about Monk tea.
Some loose leaf lovers describe it as ‘citrus-y sweet’, others deem it to be ‘poached pears in a cup’. Everyone describes it as delicious!
The tea in question, of course, is Monk, and there are plenty more questions surrounding this evocative brew. Why do we call it monk? What’s in it? Why is it part of the Earl Grey family? Why does it taste so good? Find all the answers you need below.
Monks & the diaspora of tea
Ever wondered why we christen our pear-infused Earl Grey tea ‘Monk’? In being honest, the name has no direct connection to the ingredients! Rather, it was just The Tea Centre’s little way of paying tribute to all the anonymous monks who spread the popularity of tea throughout Asia in the earliest dynasties.
The contribution that monks had in popularising and spreading the consumption of tea via the Silk Road (more on that historic route here) cannot be understated.
How so? Well, Emperor Shen Nung is thought to have discovered tea when a leaf blew into the cup of boiling water that he was drinking. While this origin story may be legend, it’s well known from texts of the time that tea was previously reserved for only the most elite in China. Namely, the emperor and his aristocrats.
Courtesy from Umi Tea Sets.
However, monks—whose unique role in society allowed them to converse with both emperors and paupers alike—were pivotal in breaking this class barrier. Without them, it could very well have been the case that tea remained an exclusive item forever inaccessible to the lower echelons of society.
Moreover, Buddhists monks were part of a larger order that was spread throughout Asia. Due to the pilgriming nature of Buddhism, these monks were constantly traversing countries. In doing so, they took their learnings—one of which was tea—to Japan, India, Sri Lanka, and abroad.
Why did the monks love tea?
The monks loved tea as they felt that drinking the brew could assist in meditation, helping them step that much closer to enlightenment. In fact, the very first book about tea was written by the monk Lu Yu between 760 and 762 CE!
Another important note to make was that monks weren’t just the distributors of tea. They were its earliest manufacturers and marketing team too. The fact that our most traditional Chinese teas—Lung Ching, Yunnan Finest, and Pai Mu Tan to name a few—come from mountains that were also home to large monasteries is no coincidence.
In ancient China, monks and their religious orders were one of the few classes in society who had the financial power, spare time, and labour force to dedicate to the creation of tea. Moreover, their elevated position in society and association with the divine also meant that monks had an abundance of social capital; the Instagram influencers of BC times, if you will.
Therefore, some historians make the argument that tea was only able to assume its huge cultural significance and correlation with ritual in China because it counted the cultivators of culture—monks—among its fans. A little something to think about as you enjoy the rich flavours in Monk tea!
Earl Greys: what is bergamot oil?
That’s enough about the history, let’s talk ingredients! One of the biggest questions The Tea Centre is ‘why is Monk tea part of the Earl Grey family?’ Because it contains bergamot oil and black tea, the two ingredients required to define a brew as ‘Earl Grey’.
The follow-up question: ‘what is bergamot oil’?
Not only will we tell you what it is, but also why it tastes so good with black tea and pear! Bergamot is part of the citrus fruit family. You will find it commonly grown in northern Italy (its name derives from Bergamo in Italy’s Lombardy region).
The size of orange but with a lemon or lime-coloured exterior (depending on its ripeness), bergamot flesh is too bitter for consumption. However, the perfect spicy-citrus notes are apparent in the rind of the fruit. It is from the fragrant skin of bergamots that we extract bergamot oil.
Citrus & Pomaceous: The pear-fect pairing!
On the other hand of the fruit spectrum is the pomaceous family, where pears of every shape and size come from! No matter what pear you’re talking about, the common characteristics are super sweet, juicy, and slightly earthy but also containing a trace of vanilla flavour.
Such diversity in tasting notes makes pear work great with just about anything. But it meets its true partner-in-pairing when combined with bergamot oil. Already hitting the bitter, sweet, and sour tastebuds, we further elevate the blend with the ‘umami’ factor when basing these flavours on a bed of our finest black Ceylon tea.
Moreover, bergamots—like many of our citrus teas—come into season in October and are in abundance throughout spring and summer! That means there’s no better time than now to start sipping on the fruitiest of our Earl Grey teas.