Despite their country’s headline-grabbing economic woes, Greeks tend to excel in the longevity category. Santa Barbara resident Steve Raftopoulos believes that may have something to do with the native mountain teas they’ve sipped for millennia. “These are all ancient Greek herbal teas,” he explains of the organic shrub clippings he now imports, packages on Anapamu Street in the former Jordy’s Market, and sells online as Klio Tea. “Greeks have been drinking these since the beginning of time.”
A former New York City finance expert who was raised the child of Greek immigrants in Louisiana and Mississippi, Raftopoulos moved to California a few years back and fell in love with the Santa Ynez Valley, where he built a house with his 83-year-old, four-cups-of-tea-a-day father, who lives there now. About two years ago, while at a Greek market in Los Angeles, Raftopoulos stumbled upon the rustic teas he recalled from his youth, did a bit of research on their history and nutritional benefits, and quickly wondered, “Why not bring these antioxidant-laden, phytonutrient-rich, and rather delicious herbs to health-conscious America?”
He connected with an entrepreneurially minded cousin in Greece and started figuring out how to import commercial amounts of the Sideritis plant, or what the Greeks call Tsy-Too-VooNoo. Much like high-end wineries that only source from distinct vineyards, Raftopoulos focused on single-origin teas from Mount Othrys, believing that the terroir is key to the resulting tea. “The suppliers there are very fragmented,” he explained. “Getting ones that were credible was a bit of a challenge. I could not do this without a trusted partner there.”
It took some time, but in January of this year, Klio Tea hit the market, offering the Greek mountain as well as Greek sage, sea buckthorn, chamomile, lemon verbena, and olive leaf teas. The Greek mountain comes in bulky though slick packages as completely unprocessed flowering stems, smelling like a cross between fresh chamomile, sweet oregano, and mellow sage, and makes a very pleasant, uncaffeinated brew after steeping in boiling water for five minutes and pouring through a strainer. “It pairs really well with honey,” said Raftopoulos, whose $11 packages contain enough tea for 25 10-ounce cups (free shipping). “I like it even better iced.”
Tastiness aside, Klio Tea’s whole-leaf style marks a shift away from the tea bags of yesteryear, which Raftopoulos believes have lost many of their nutrients due to the extreme amount of processing required. He explained, “This is more about the pure herb and its health benefits.”
To learn more about Greek mountain tea, see kliotea.com.