“The ancient Greeks called it this because the tea they made with this herb was used to wash wounds inflicted by iron weapons,” said Michael Politopoulos, co-founder of Hellas Farms, which brews the product.
According to Politopoulos, the herb’s longevity in Greek pantries and public consciousness is a testament to its antiseptic, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties.
With the rise of health-conscious American consumers who are keen to broaden their taste palettes and replace indulgent, fizzy drinks with what they presume to be healthier, Politopoulos, his brother Demetri, and business partner Nikos Papageorgiou decided bringing the Greek mainstay stateside was a good choice.
Politopoulos describes the beverage as very smooth and slightly floral. It is lightly sweetened with honey and lemon, which he said is brewed as sliced up fruit together with the flowers.
Harvesting in Thrace
“The drink has been available for millennia, but it’s never been packaged,” Politopoulos said. In Greece, the flower stems to make the beverage are traditionally sold in open air markets to be brewed at home. But Politopoulos, who with his brother own a beer brewery, thought that with the same brewing machinery, they could brew multiple batches of the beverage.
Their brand name Tuvunu is Greek for “of the mountains,” and the flowers used to make it are harvested by 300 Pomak families in the Thrace region of Greece, which borders Bulgaria and Turkey.
“The plant isn’t actually cultivated, it grows wild, so we signed contracts with these villagers,” he said, adding that his company hopes to bring business and rejuvenation to one of the most impoverished regions in the Eurozone.
In terms of positioning, Politopoulos said that Tuvunu is marketed as a healthy drink, but it's up to retailers or buyers to drink it any way they want—as an athletic refresher, a substitute for sweet soda, or an indulgent treat. The young brand is still testing out the waters, being sold with limited distribution in the US, the Netherlands, and Greece.
Tuvunu’s canned tisane sells like wildfire in Greece, Politopoulos said. “People are used to it, so it makes sense. The Hilton Rooftop Galaxy bar, one of the best in Athens, made a cocktail using Tuvunu,” he added.
In the US, the beverage is sold for the suggested retail price of $2.49 for a 16.9 oz can, and can be bought anywhere in the world through Amazon Prime, where a 6-pack is $14.94.
It is sold in Greek restaurants and delis in Manhattan, slowly expanding to other regional specialty stores such as the Big Apple’s many Korean and Chinese grocery stores. Politopoulos added that several high end delis stock them too, and they hope to expand to mainstream retailers soon.
“We target everyone, not just the health-conscious, but for them the drink’s health benefits are an added incentive,” he said. “Anyone who drinks tea is a candidate for this product.”