Evangelia Koustouvolou steeps us in botanical knowledge.
We had the pleasure of catching up with Evangelia Koustovolou, founder and owner of Daphnis and Chloe, our boutique herb supplier. Using the chance to pick her brain, we found out where the inspiration for her business came from, why Greek herbs are so highly prized, and the process behind production.
Completing her studies across the Ionian sea in Italy, Evangelia would travel home to Greece during the summer and return with dried herbs as souvenirs for her friends. The reactions that the herbs garnered were a real surprise, “with all the great food in Italy, a country with a great culinary heritage… at a certain point I became curious about why Italians were so excited about Greek herbs.”
After considerable research, Evangleia learnt that the wild, indigenous herbs of Greece are affected by what oenophiles describe as ‘terroir,' the natural environment in which grapes (and herbs) are grown, including factors such as soil, climate and topography. “Greece has so many parts where herbs develop in a very special way and they have very specific characteristics that are hard to find elsewhere.”
“Greece has so many parts where herbs develop in a very special way and they have very specific characteristics that are hard to find elsewhere.”
This insight allowed Evangelia to carve out a niche for her business, “I saw something special and unique with such potential that nobody had ever exploited… a treasure that no one had ever taken seriously.” One such treasure, wild mountain tea, Sideritis, proved to be difficult for Evangelia to source, as cultivation can be extremely difficult and the harvesting must be undertaken in a sustainable manner to prevent populations from dying out. A rich, floral tea, Sideritis presents itself in different varieties specific to each mountainside, and only grows at altitudes of over 1000 metres. Fortunately, she received an email from the son of a family which has been propagating Sideritis on Mount Parnon for years; providing expertise in harvesting and actually increasing the local population.
Evangelia’s advantage in operating a small business is the way in which she cultivates relationships with her producers, who are carefully selected for their proficiency in herb craft. Indeed, for many of these suppliers, it is their first time exporting out of their region, and this is what makes the herbs so unique, “if there were other companies dealing with culinary, Mediterranean herbs like this I would never have been interested to start.”
Aware that although climate is the most influential factor for quality, it’s also down to the people, “[Daphnis and Chloe is] a company that for practical and ethical reasons works with professionals,” Evangelia states. It’s this professionalism that proves essential for the business “maintaining a standard of quality.” The processing stage is all about preserving flavour, herbs gain their taste from essential oils. Experts can retain this integrity; herbs must be rigorously handpicked and prepared using “small, artisanal practices" instead of larger-scale mechanical methods.
The conversation moves on to Athens itself, where for Evangelia, life has evolved over time. She has fallen in love with her neighbourhood which is based a five minute walk away from Plaka, in an area that has never been particularly touristic, and removed from the hustle and bustle of the city, “I love the neighbourhood, there are beautiful orange trees, so when the spring arrives it smells so nice.” The Aegean also provides countless opportunities to escape what Evangelia calls, “an eastern and western metropolis - loud and messy” with island day trips a reality that not many other cities can offer.