Today I wanted to share with you a story around tea, and this is the first of a series, most of the time linked to my travels. This time I am taking you to Crete in Greece.
I discovered Greek Mountain Tea during my first yoga workshop with Kristina in Crete four years ago (more info on her yoga workshops here). It was served after our morning practice and got hooked straight away so I had to bring back some that year! I drink it almost every day. So every year when I go to Crete, I buy enough quantities from the same lady at the farmers’ market in Rethymno and it lasts me the whole year until I return. The smell is nice and strong. I usually drink it in the afternoon but you can drink it for breakfast or in the vening instead of the herbal infusions you get from the grocery shop.
Greek Mountain Tea is known as Tsai Tou Vounou or Malotira and is made using the dried leaves and flowers of the Sideritis syriaca plant. The plant and flowers that form it grow wild on the mountainside throughout Crete, including the White Mountains area in Chania. It is found on rocky slopes at elevations over 3,200 feet (1,000 meters). These plants are hardy flowering perennials that have adapted to survive with little water and little soil. They are harvested by hand making the tea a pure and natural product.
The tea is also known as Shepherd’s Tea because Greek shepherds would use the plants to make a brewed tea while tending their flocks high in the hills.
Mountain Tea is healthy and enormously popular in Greece, and used most often in winter when levels of physical activity decrease and colds, aches, and pains increase. It is said to have a positive effect on almost anything that ails but, most notably, it is used for colds, respiratory problems, digestion, the immune system, mild anxiety, and as an anti-oxidant. It is also used as an anti-inflammatory and to reduce fever. I can add that it managed to get rid of some of my headaches in the past.
In Greece, it is sold at the farmers’ markets, in grocery shops, pharmacies, herb-and-spice shops, or you can pick it fresh and dry it yourself at home. Outside Greece, it is sold as “Greek Mountain Tea,” or “Greek Mountain Shepherd’s Tea,” at specialty shops, and it can be found online (even on Etsy).
To brew – just take a handful of flowers or break a stalk into pieces that fit into your cup or teapot, infuse with boiling water and brew for 5 to 10 minutes (no more than 10 minutes otherwise it gives a strong bitter taste which is not nice at all…). I usually serve it without milk. I like its refreshing citrus overtones.
If you feel you cannot drink it as is, then add some honey or a slice of lemon or cinnamon or dried goji berries (these two can be infused with the plant).
And to go with it, I made these little cretan spiced biscuits made with olive oil (normally served with coffee when you drink your “café” over there). As they are quite crunchy, I dip them into my tea (and coffee if you are of the coffee type – which is what people normally do). I tried the recipe from the cookbook The Islands of Greece – Recipes from the Islands of Greece. They tasted good but not quite the exact taste in my memory. So I will be hunting the web to find the right list of ingredients to make these again!
Prep time: 15min – Cooking time: 30-40min – Makes 16 biscuits
250g plain flour / farine
1 tps baking powder / c.c. de levure Alsa
100g caster sugar / sucre fin
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon / c.c. de cannelle en poudre
1/2 tsp ground cloves / c.c de clous de girofle en poudre
finely grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
finely grated zest and juice of small orange (or 1/2 big one)
90ml olive oil / huile d’olive
40g sesame seeds / graines de sésame
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F)
Stir together all the dry ingredients (except the sesame seeds) with the zest. Mix the liquids together and add to the dry ingredients. Stir until a firm dough is formed. If the consistency is too dry or crumbly, add 1-2 tablespoons of water.
Using your hands shape the dough into a firm ball. Pull small pieces of dough from the ball and roll into sausage shapes about 10-15 cm (4 in) long, then pull the ends together to form a ring. if the ends don’t stick, wet them to ensure they do. Do the same with all the dough.
Pour the sesame seeds on to a plate. Mist or brush each ring with a bit of water. Gently roll the rings into the seeds so they are coated all over, tranfer to a baking sheet and place in the oven. Cook for about 40 min to get crunchy biscuits or even a bit longer if you want them really dry. Transfer to a wire rack to cool and store in an airtight container.
Note: All photos in this post were taken by me and show different places in Crete.