Last week I was in Greece to visit my mother, who unfortunately is aging rapidly. It made for an intense week, especially since I took advantage of my time there to also meet with a couple of our Artisans. You can see me in the picture below having lunch in the brilliant spring sunshine with Sakis Kostopoulos from Tragano Greek Organics and my marketing godmother, Pauline Manos (more on her in a future post!), and I was also able to meet with Philippe Poli, from Philippos Hellenic Goods.
Still, facing the reality of aging parents is never easy, and as I took advantage of some rare face-to-face time with Pauline, we found ourselves always ordering Greek mountain tea, tsai tou vounoú. It might surprise you when I tell you this ended up being my favorite drink to come home to, especially considering Thessaloniki's fantastic food & drink scene. And it's true, most people don't think of Greeks as tea lovers, picturing instead old men enjoying little cups of Greek coffee in the village cafés, or young people with their frappé or freddo on the beach. But the truth is that we Greeks have a special love for tea - not the regular black or green tea that other cultures consume, but rather, we enjoy a lot of herbal teas.
The king of our herbal teas is Greek Mountain Tea or Sideritis Scardica or Ironwort. It grows wild across all our mountains and the ancient Greeks used it as a healing tea, as it helps with indigestion and has a calming effect. That's probably why Pauline and I so enjoyed it on this trip! Tsai tou vounoú is also believed to help your immune system and is used extensively to ease colds and the flu, with its fragrance and steam clearing your breathing. There are many scientists who believe that it is an excellent anti-microbial, anti-virus and anti-inflammatory plant and studies have proven it in both Europe and the US.
Mountain tea brings a lot of childhood memories to mind, and I am not alone in this. Remember my friend, Onassis, who concocted a whole cocktail to honor his moments with his grandmother, drinking tea? My own grandfather used to pour tea into a bowl, add a paximadi (a dried barley rusk), feta cheese and olives and make a meal out of it when he couldn't eat a lot of solid food anymore. When I was growing up, my parents used to have Mountain Tea every evening before going to bed. My dad, who had often been working late, would add a little snack to it and that was his dinner. He and my grandfather definitely knew something about light & healthy meals! My mother loved it as her good-night drink...but of course, every time we would be catching a cold or the weather would turn, she would make sure me and my sister were drinking it up, regardless of the time of day. The warm, calming effect tsai tou vounoú has is amazing and I still drink it for that same reason.
When I started Zēlos, it was a no-brainer for me that I needed to bring Greek Mountain Tea to the US, and I was so happy when last year I met Efi Ekmetzoglou, the woman behind Sparoza. She searches for the the best herbs to handcraft her unique blends of loose-leaf Aurora and Avaris teas. I loved that she kept the tradition of loose tea, as you rarely find Greek Mountain tea in tea bags. The list of ingredients is truly enticing - as one fan put it, "it's like having an herb garden in a tin!" Efi's beautifully decorated tins, with figures from Greek mythology, also make these a wonderful little gift.
If you're struggling through the end of winter or still missing that extra hour of sleep with the shift to Daylight Savings time, brew yourself up a steaming cup of Greek herbal tea and hopefully, like me, you'll feel the calm and comfort get you through your day or night!
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