Tea is more than just a beverage in Greece – it is a symbol of hospitality and a way to bring people together. Greece's agricultural heritage and pristine environment offer ideal conditions for cultivating the perfect cup of tea. From soothing chamomile and invigorating peppermint to antioxidant-rich mountain tea and aromatic sage, these popular Greek teas are now making their way to a cup near you. Bursting with flavor and packed with beneficial properties, you’ll want to add Greek teas to your drinks menu!
Health benefits of Greek teas
Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world, after water – in fact, people consume over 3 billion cups every day. This is good news, since tea delivers a host of health benefits cup by soothing cup. Here are just a few:
Tea is rich in polyphenols, plant compounds that can reduce stress at the cellular level, reducing the risk of inflammation, heart disease and even cancer.
Drinking tea can help lower blood pressure, as it increases the availability of nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more easily.
The polyphenols in tea can also help manage the body’s response to carbohydrates by inhibiting digestion and absorption and promoting the release of insulin.
The ancient Greeks knew the health benefits of teas, and this herbal wisdom has come down through the generations. Today, Greeks use different tea and herbal infusions to manage colds and sore throats, get a good nights’ sleep, and relax. It’s a part of the Mediterranean diet, where savoring small moments is part of a healthy lifestyle.
Popular Greek tea varieties
Greek teas, whether used individually or in blends, bring a wide range of flavors to the most discerning palates. Some you’ll know well, but others will be new. Here are some to try:
Perhaps the tea least well known outside of Greece is Greek Mountain Tea. Also known as Greek shepherd's tea, it is brewed from the leaves, stems and flowers of the Sideritis plant, called Ironwort in English. Ancient Greek healers understood its antibacterial and analgesic properties, so they used it to cleanse wounds and relieve pain. It grows in rocky terrain across Greece’s many mountains, and each region has its own, locally harvested varieties. It has a unique flavor profile, earthy and slightly floral. Order it in a Greek café and don’t be surprised if you get a little bit of local honey served with it. The perfect pairing!
Chamomile, with its delicate flavor, is a perennial favorite for relaxation and sleep. The name itself is a Latinization of the Greek word χαμαίμηλον, which translates as “earth apple.” Made from the daisy-like flowers of the Asteraceae family, chamomile grows throughout Greece, in both wild and cultivated varieties. Its golden color and gentle aroma may lull you to sleep, but it is a hard worker, easing digestion issues, sleeplessness and soothing colicky babies.
Mint tea is known for its invigorating and refreshing qualities. In Greek mythology, the mint plant was personified as Minthe, a nymph beloved by Hades, the god of the underworld. Perhaps this is because mint naturally grows in cool, moist, dark areas. In addition to its use as a tea, mint is a natural insecticide. While its cool, minty taste provides an instant pick-me-up, mint tea is also great for soothing indigestion and enhancing mental clarity.
Sage can be used on its own as an herbal tea, or blended with other ingredients. With its robust, aromatic taste, sage tea has been found to relieve symptoms of menopause, and supports oral hygiene by reducing bacteria in the mouth.
Lemon verbena is not a native of Greece, but it has been living here since the 1700s, and has been used in tea blends ever since. With its lemony flavor, it adds a touch of brightness to your cup, and can aid in digestion, help with cramps, and support relaxation.
Cultivating sustainable Greek teas
Greece’s Mediterranean climate and fertile soil provide excellent conditions for growing the herbal components of Greek teas. Whether harvested from the wild or cultivated in small farms, increasingly, Greek tea production is characterized by a strong commitment to organic and sustainable practices.
Many herbs used to blend Greek teas are harvested wild, especially from remote areas on islands like Crete and Ikaria, and in the Peloponnese, where there is almost no pollution. These plants depend entirely on nature to provide them with the light, nutrients and water they need to thrive, so they must work extra hard to grow. For this reason, wild harvested herbs often contain higher concentrations of polyphenols and other nutrients, and rich, hardy flavors.
Zelos offers teas from Sparoza, an artisanal tea and spice purveyor founded in 2014 by Effie Ekmetzoglou, an Athenian whose family originated from Anatolia. She left a 20-year career as a publisher to translate her passion for herbs and spices into a new venture. Seeking the finest raw materials and making her own lemon and orange zest, Effie captured the blends she had always used in her own cooking and began selling them around her Athens neighborhood of Exarcheia. Along with developing sustainable practices, Sparoza is scrupulous when it comes to sourcing the freshest ingredients, either organically grown or wild harvested. For example, their rosemary and thyme are picked when in blossom to ensure peak flavor. Each ingredient is also individually ground to the degree of fineness that preserves its nutritional value and taste.
Brewing and serving Greek teas
Brewing and serving Greek teas is its own artform. Each variety benefits from different steeping times. But don’t worry - we’ve broken it down for you. For chamomile tea, start by boiling water and letting it cool slightly before pouring it over the dried flowers. Allow the tea to steep for about five minutes, then strain and enjoy. Peppermint tea is best brewed with boiling water and steeped for three to five minutes, depending on the desired strength. To serve, you can add a slice of lemon or a drizzle of honey for extra flavor. Greek Mountain Tea is traditionally brewed by simmering the leaves in water for about ten minutes. The longer brewing time allows the full flavor and aroma of the tea to come forward. Sage tea can be brewed by pouring boiling water over the sage leaves and letting it steep for five to seven minutes. The brewed tea can be enjoyed as is or sweetened with a teaspoon of honey.
Greek tea blends to try
One of the easiest ways to enjoy Greek tea is in a refreshing blend that combines traditional flavors in modern combinations like these from Sparoza:
Aurora herbal tea blend combines an array of beneficial herbs, traditional Greek mountain tea, and handmade orange peel into an energizing and toning infusion. Truly, it's worthy of Aurora, the Goddess of the Dawn, after which it's named.
Shaman chai tea brings Greek flair to everyone’s favorite chai.This spiced black tea blend combines cinnamon, cloves and cardamom for warmth, enhanced by spicy ginger, peppercorns and chili.
Tea is a part of Greek well being, hospitality, and health. Gathering to share a cup with a friend, a small cookie or other treat makes the experience even more delightful, and of course, Greek honey will be offered to sweeten your cup. Greek tea culture is a celebration of community, tradition, and the simple pleasures of life, reminding us to slow down, savor the moment, and connect with those around us.
Author: Jean Fleming, a writer based in the Peloponnese region of Greece.
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