As Greeks, we have grown up with a huge variety of herbal teas. The two most popular herbs that Yia-Yia has in her kitchen are chamomile and “tsai tou vounou.” While chamomile is known in other cultures and places, “tsai tou vounou” or Greek mountain tea, is quintessentially Greek. Just the word conjures up steaming hot mugs of the potent twigs floating in a kettle waiting to be strained for that soothing all-natural panacea. So if you were an enterprising Greek woman in her 20s, what would you do? Capitalize on the idea and bring “tsai tou vounou” to the American market. Witness the birth of Zoos Mountain Tea!
That’s exactly what Kristina Tsipouras has done. She has launched a successful line of naturally brewed iced teas made with the “tsai tou vounou” with the same recipe that her Yia-Yia used to brew for her every morning. ZOOS tea has been on the market in Boston since May and is expanding by leaps and bounds into the North East. It should hit the shelves in Rhode Island, Connecticut New York and New Jersey by next spring.
The Birth of ZOOS
Kristina Tsipouras is a second-generation Greek American who grew up in Boston. You could say she led a typical Greek-American life. Her father owned a successful dry cleaning business in Newton, Mass. As a member of a tightly-knit extended Greek family, she would visit her Yia-Yia and Pappou on the second floor of their family home where her Yia-Yia would fix her a cup of the concoction every morning before heading to school. In the summers, she accompanied them to their house outside of Thessaloniki and foraged in the countryside picking up wild herbs, tsai tou vounou being one of them. She went away to college to a well-known university in Florida, graduating with a Bachelor degree in Communications and Minor in Women & Gender studies. After college, she moved to Manhattan where she worked in the event planning and wedding industry. She put in a few years in the industry before becoming burned out.
She was visiting her grandparents one summer when the epiphany came. It was towards the end of the summer when she would soon have to board a plane and take the long flight back home. She was overlooking the city of Thessaloniki when she realized she was not excited about going back to her job. “There were so many hidden healthy gems in Greece,” Tsipouras explained, “that America has not yet been introduced to. If only I could take some of the herbs back.” (Of course, she did; she and every other Greek American stuffs her suitcase with tsai tou vounou and assorted herbs and then lets the pungent smell of the Greek country side diffuse into the rooms of their American apartments.) And that’s when the idea came to her: Why not introduce Greek mountain tea to the American market? “America needs a healthier iced tea,” Tsipouras says. “Most current iced teas on the market are not real brewed. This means they break the tea leaves down into a concentrate powder form and add in flavors and coloring.”
She came back to the States and researched everything about “Greek mountain tea.” And it just so happened that The New York Times had done a long spread hailing the tea for it’s many health benefits. Livestrong.com had a similar article published on the many health benefits of the herb as well. But it wasn’t until she received a Google Alert she had put out to catch any and all discussions of Greek mountain tea that she insisted on pursuing the idea. That was because the Kardashians pinned a picture of the Greek tea when on holiday in Mykonos. They mentioned in their post, “Greek Tea is the best tea ever.” That was the call she needed and soon enough tsai tou vounou became her calling. ZOOS Teas had been born, at least in the mind of Kristina.
The Process to Find the Product
While supportive, her family thought it was a “trella” for her to forsake her career and venture a stake in the beverage industry, an industry she had absolutely no experience in. She did a complete “360 career turn” because she was convinced– “It is the next Greek yogurt,” Tsipouras claims.
From the passion sprung the process to create a palatable product. She consulted with food scientists, business advisers, contracted distributors, attended The National Food and Beverage show in Baltimore, and experimented with the taste and process. At first, she attempted to make a tea bag infused form of the tea, but as it is flowery herb that makes it “sloppy” to package, she opted to infuse the tea into an iced tea form. After a vigorous taste test and market research that involved over 2,000 tasters, the peach and lemon flavors of the tea were decided as the prototype. She knew she had hit on something when the bottles kept flying off the shelves.
During a family living room brainstorm session, she decided on the name “ZOOS,” as she says, “to keep it Greek and play on words.” Synonymous with strength and Greek heritage.
In less than two years, ZOOS Teas have expanded to a 65,000 bottle production and distribution. Having started with humble beginnings on a supermarket shelf in Massachusetts, ZOOS Tea can be found in retail establishments around Boston and its suburbs and is shortly expanding into Rhode Island and Connecticut. Having signed with a non-alcoholic Budweiser distributor, Kristina plans to expand into the New York City tri-state area and all along the Eastern corridor by spring.
The American palate has happily taken a liking to the tea, which like yerba matte, takes some getting used to. “People have been excited about the product,” Kristina states. “Because they have never tasted such a delicious herbal blend of mountain teas.” It is quickly garnering the rep as an ethnic elixir.
The Hellenic Chutzpah
So, how does a Greek-American woman in her 20’s have the “tolmi” to risk so much to launch an unknown product in an industry she had little experience in? “Definitely, the family is at the cornerstone of success,” she states. Her sister plays a vital role in her business as a sales rep. She credits the strong bonds to her yiayia and pappou as the root of her passion for the tea. The love of the tea became an extension of them as she had associated it with her grandparents. “The difference between a make or break brand is the passion that the founder and team members have for the product and the brand itself as a lifestyle.”
Secondly, as Tsipouras explains, “If you have confidence and believe in your product, with the right marketing and distribution, it will sell. Investors and industry leaders do not see a girl in her 20’s but only a determined passionate entrepreneur.”
It also helps to be Greek. “As a Greek woman, I am loud and proud. I know who I am and know what I want.” In other words, you have to have Hellenic chutzpah.
Yet culture can come with conflict. As a bicultural member of the Diaspora, Tsipouras did comment on the difficulty of bouncing between two cultures. It is sometimes disconcerting to go from a conservative and less outgoing culture that Boston can sometimes emanate, to the warmth and sociability of Thessaloniki and Greece, she noted. “Sometimes after coming back from Greece in the summer, I want to greet people at a business meeting with a hug, but have to check myself.”
Given this short bio with ZOOS’s founder, it is just a matter of time before ZOOS Teas become a household name in the greater American culture.
“We are on our way to becoming a national brand,” Tsipouras is confident. What a long way since the cup that Yia-Yia used to make in the briki!
Find our more information on ZOOS & Founder Kristina Tsipouras by clinking the links below:
ZOOS Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DRINKZOOS
ZOOS Instagram: @drinkzoos
ZOOS Twitter: @drinkzoos
ZOOS web: www.drinkzoos.com
Kristina’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ktsipouras
Kristina’s Instagram: BusyGirlBoston