Greek Mountain

Going Greek Mountain

The existence of Greek Mountain Tea (Sideritis syriaca) came to my attention on a perusal of the David’s Tea website. The exotic-looking plant had shown up in review samples, but I was too late in acquiring some. I almost made a purchase of it from David’s until I looked at the shipping charge. They were a Canadian company. Needless to say, it was out of my budget.

The back-up option was to hunt down a local provider. I scoured my usual tea spots. None seemed to know what it was. I even hit up Greek people I knew. For some reason, they hadn’t heard of it either.  At a Greek-owned nightclub, I asked the owner.  He wracked his brain for a bit, then said, “Oh yes, veddy good tea. Veddy good!” Then he recommended a Greek deli/mart that might have it.

That deli ended up being Foti’s, a popular lunch spot in NE Portland. Half of the shop was sectioned off for Greek market products. On one of the shelves – next to the sage – was my target.

I took it home and instantly began experimenting. First, I tried it steeped like any normal tea/tisane. This yielded a pale yellow cup with a light citrus taste, but it didn’t leave much of an impression. Then I perused the internet for other recommendations. Apparently, it was so resilient an herb that a good brew had to be decocted (i.e. boiled) for ten minutes in a pot. I should’ve know this, since the review site forum had mentioned as much.

While I did possess a pot in which to do the boiling, I didn’t have much of a desire to.  Main reason? I was afraid of the stove. I know…I know…shut it. However, I did have something in my possession that would work. A cheap, plastic electric tea kettle that continuously boiled water. My sister gave it as a Christmas present the year prior. I was in business.

After a ten-minute boil, the brew had reached the desired amber I’d seen in many a photo. It was also scalding hot due to the repeated boiling of the water. I actually required an ice cube to make it drinkable. But once it was ready…oh dear Lord…

The flavor was a unique mélange of honey, lemon, and mint. There was also something wildernessy about the taste, like one had stepped onto a Mediterranean field and instantly found a hot tub. It had a lot in common with chamomile on the initial taste, then settled into something more akin to lemon verbena; but without the vegetal note.

One recommendation I read noted that the drink was not complete without honey. Not just any honey, though. Only Greek honey would do. This led to a return trip to Foti’s Deli.

I hoped the honey was worth the trouble. The stuff cost me twelve bucks. That was expensive, even for honey. For twelve dollars, the bees used to make it better be endangered. The back of the bottle mentioned that Greek honey differed from other types because of the flowers that bees cultivated. Honey was – after all – just bee puke, so it wasn’t difficult to surmise that bee puke was different from plant-to-plant, country-to-country. But enough about that.

They were right. Greek honey was the missing element for this already-almost perfect beverage. It added a creamy, sweet element to the natural citrus lean of the stubborn herb.

I ended up making several other trips to Foti’s, and – for awhile – it was my go-to sleepy-time drink. I don’t know why I lost interest in it. Part of that may have been due to the one time I ended up with a bad batch. Still, it’s an amazing herbal infusion that apparently also keeps you from getting sick. Or so says someone’s Greek mother.

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Monday, November 8th, 2010 Steep Stories 3 Comments

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