To be completely honest I’m a little disappointed with the authenticity of this product, but not the final results. I had a very hard time trying to source bee balm (monarda didyma) in bulk, but ultimately found another similar herb (menthe citrata) that goes under the name “bergamot” as well, just as bee balm does. Although it’s not the exact herb I was looking for, the taste is very similar to what I was looking for.
With that out of the way, let’s talk Oswego Tea…
In the years preceding the American Revolution, the government of Great Britain devised ways to extract taxes from the American colonists. After all, it was an expensive endeavor to maintain the overseas colony, especially after spending so much on the French and Indian War a decade or so earlier. Parliament believed that the colonists should shoulder some of the financial burden, so why not place taxes on imports to raise revenue? And why not place restrictions on competing goods from outside the Empire? The colonists would have no choice but to purchase British goods and pay British taxes.
As grade school history classes have taught since the dawning of our nation, the idea of taxation without representation wasn’t extremely popular in the thirteen colonies. Neither was the idea of having to purchase British tea.
To undercut the British monopoly of the tea trade to North America, Dutch smugglers brought in tea, often of a noticeably lower quality to the ports of America. Many colonists grit their teeth and bared the inferior smuggled tea to spite their treatment from Parliament across the Atlantic.
Others looked for more homespun solutions. For one, there was blackberry leaf which is readily available and has often been used as a substitute for black tea in lean times, due to the similarity in taste. Perhaps the most famous replacement for imported tea the era was “Oswego tea”, the bee balm or bergamot plant, which was abundant and used by the Mohawk Indians in present-day upstate New York as a remedy for a whole slew of ailments.
Calling it “Oswego tea” was in reference to the Oswego River that flows into Lake Ontario, but had more of a general connotation of being “from the wilderness” rather than a specific location. Today we would call these herbs “wildcrafted”.
The bee balm plant (and the mentha citrata plant we’re using) sometimes answers to “bergamot” due to the flavor, which is reminiscent of the European orange used for flavoring Earl Grey tea and as a fragrance in perfumes.
Our blend is a mix of blackberry leaf and mentha citrata, which makes a caffeine-free dark brew with slight citrus and fruit tones and a little bit of a minty bite to it.
Brew yourself a cup, taste the history and enjoy the rebellion.