Time was in Greece, that having a cup of tea was a definite signal that your health was in decline. The standard response when asking for tea was, invariably, “What’s the matter with you ?”
Tea was solely a beverage for the sick. There was no choice when buying black tea – it was almost exclusively the little dust-filled, yellow-tagged sachet’s of Lipton’s – a product unknown in any true tea-drinking country. Maybe it was a reaction to Ottoman rule, but although the Greek word for ‘tea’ – τσαϊ (tsaï) – comes from the Turkish ‘çay’, drinking the stuff does not have the same popularity as in other parts of the eastern Mediterranean.
There has, however, always been a strong tradition for consuming herbal ‘teas’. Though again, they were, and still are, taken mainly for their health-improving qualities. There is the ubiquitous ‘mountain tea’, or ironwort. This is a body strengthener, good for treating colds and flu. A tisane of sage leaves is popular and is a good treatment for everything from sore throats to hot flushes. Mint tea is the perfect treatment for upset tummies, headaches and more; and rosemary tea is beneficial for the memory. In the streets around the market in Athens there are innumerable shops and stalls selling all sorts of herbs and spices, either for cooking or, more often than not, for making herbal teas.
In recent years, though, there has been a bit of a tea revolution in Greece and leading the way are the teas from Kozani in northern Greece, all based on the traditional herbs and spices of the region, along with some more unusual ingredients and all including a really bit of magic – Greek Red Saffron.
Kozani is the home of saffron production in Greece and, in fact has been awarded a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status. This is saffron of the very highest quality, mostly organic and since 1971 produced by a co-operative, employing around 5,000 people. Some years ago, in collaboration with the renowned cosmetic company Korres, this wonderful spice was used as the basis for these fantastic Krocus Kozanis teas.
There are seven variations of the saffron tea, each one with a very individual taste and aroma, but all recalling something of Greece. There is the combination of wild rosemary, thyme and saffron, or sage lemon verbena and saffron – both my personal favourites. The fragrance a reminder of a Greek mountain walk.
The spicy scent of the cinnamon, clove and saffron tea conjures up old-fashioned spice shops and is perfect for a cold winters’ day. Another variety reminds us of the true herbal beginnings of liquorice – our word coming from the Greek for ‘sweet root’.
What could be more Greek than orange and honey, or lemon and spearmint? And I love the inclusion of some more unusual flavours, like lemon grass and green tea – the addition to them all of glorious, golden saffron is pure genius.
So Greek tea is no longer just for those feeling a little under the weather. Here are teas that talk to the senses and massage the soul – as well as being very good for you.
Time to get my favourite cup and put the kettle on ….again…
Krocus Kozanis Teas available from: