In the first lesson, we answered this very common question: "What is tea?" In this second infusion, we'll turn the teacup and tackle the question, "What is not tea?" Are herbal teas really "tea?"
A confusing attribute of tea is that many of the beverages that are called "tea" are actually not tea.
What Is Herbal Tea?
Herbal teas, or Tisanes (a French word for "herbal infusion"), are usually dried flowers, fruits or herbs infused with boiling water. No actual tea leaves are included here. Historically imbibed for medicinal reasons or as a caffeine-free alternative, many Tisanes are beginning to find their own popularity outside the tea world.
Virtually any flower, fruit or herb that can be ingested can become a Tisane. Just take a trip to your local health food store and you'll find dozens of "medicinal herbal teas" boasting a variety of benefits from relaxation to rejuvenation. For this lesson, we will deal on a few of the more noteworthy Tisanes: some old classics, some new favourites.
Different Types of Herbal Tea (Tisane)
The first and arguably most famous Tisane we’ll mention finds its roots in ancient Egypt. Chamomile was first mentioned in a document known as the Ebers Papyrus, dating back to 1550 BC. Used to honour the gods, embalm the dead and cure the sick, chamomile has endured a lasting fame. Its light, sweet, apple-like beverage is still revered for its uncanny (caffeine-free) calming effect.
A Johnny-come-lately to the Tisane scene, Rooibos, is quickly stealing the spotlight from its Camellia cousin, green tea. Also known as "Red Bush Tea" or simply "Red Tea," Rooibos was introduced to the herbal teas world as a substitute for black tea. During World War II, virtually all supplies of Japanese and Chinese teas suddenly became unavailable. The tea-addicted Western culture scoured the world for an alternative, finally discovering caffeine-free Rooibos. However, recent health benefits attributed to Rooibos are allowing it to emerge from the shadows as a legitimate drink in itself. Exclusive to South Africa, Rooibos' cool, refreshing flavour is now enjoyed worldwide, gaining more popularity in Australia and New Zealand.
Peppermint has been used dating back to the Greeks, as a caffeine-free home remedy aiding digestion and soothing the stomach. During those times, tables were rubbed with Peppermint to make dining more pleasant. However, not all herbal teas were so pleasant at the time – some were, in fact, deadly. According to our history, Socrates, the father of modern thought, was sentenced to death by drinking a brew known as Hemlock. Hemlock, however, is unavailable in many cafes, due to its unfortunate side effects.
The last type of herbal tea we’ll discuss is known as Fruit Tea. This type of tea is usually simply a combination of dried fruits, herbs and flavouring. The result of this concoction is a beverage that has the flavourful sweetness of the fruit that is being featured but is more subtle than that fruit’s juice. Fruit teas generally work well after dinner, as they are naturally sweet (contain no added sugars) and are caffeine-free. More frequently than not, however, one will find herbal blends, mixtures of the tisanes mentioned and many others.
The wide diversity of tisanes available makes the combination possibilities virtually unlimited. Some herbal combinations include Tavalon’s After Dark (Crimson Punch and Royal Chamomile) and Herbal Oasis (Chamomile, Lemongrass, Rooibos, Vanilla & Peppermint).
No longer a drink merely for the pregnant, caffeine-sensitive or those trying to catch some z's, herbal teas have found a new place in the market. Tisanes are beginning to infuse culture with a wide range of taste and astounding array of benefits. They have now parted ways with bigger brothers Coffee and Tea and their independence should be recognised.