One confusing aspect of learning about tea is the fact that items referred to as “tea” really aren’t tea at all! Experts refer to herbal teas by their proper term “tisanes” (pronounced “tih-ZAHN” or “tih ZANE”), a French word meaning “an herbal infusion”. These concoctions are typically dried herbs, flowers or fruits which are steeped in boiling water, and absent of any tea leaves. Historically, tisanes are consumed for medicinal reasons, but in modern times they have found their way as a popular caffeine-free alternative.
Interesting Fact: In Europe, and many countries around the world, “tea” refers only to infusions of actual tea (Camellia senensis) leaves and it is regulated. In the United States, however, it seems that anything that is an infusion is referred to as “tea”. Don’t feel bad if you’re a bit confused.
Virtually any fruit, flower, or herb that can safely be steeped in water and ingested can become a tisane. Just take a look on the shelves of any health food store or grocery market. You’ll find several “herbal teas” that tout any number of benefits from relaxation to cold care.
Let’s take a look at a few of the more popular tisanes.
The arguably most famous herbal infusion finds its roots in ancient Egypt. The first recorded mention of Chamomile being enjoyed was in a document dating back to 1550 BC. This light, sweet, apple-like beverage with floral notes is still revered for its uncanny calming effect.
Peppermint has been used as a caffeine-free home remedy aiding digestion and soothing the stomach for millennia, dating back to the Greeks.
Fruit Tisanes are caffeine-free blends that contain an assortment of fruits, spices and herbs. The most common ingredient in fruit “teas” is Hibiscus, which is a crimson flower the steeps to a deep red color and has a powerful tart that balances with sweetness. Hibiscus flowers are naturally high in Vitamin C.
In addition to Hibiscus, tea blenders also use dried fruits, fruit peels, oil, blossoms and spices to achieve the perfect balance of visual appeal and flavor in their tisanes.
Becoming popular in the past 10 years or so, Rooibos has quickly become popular throughout the United States. Also known as “Red Bush” or simply “Red Tea”, rooibos was introduced as a substitute for black tea during World War II. When Japanese and Chinese tea became unavailable, the Western World hunted the world over for an alternative. Ultimately they discovered rooibos, a caffeine-free alternative that grows only in South Africa. Rooibos has an understated sweet flavor and is excellent on its own or blended with other herbs and fruits.
Finishing out our tour of herbal tisanes is Yerba Mate (“YURR-buh MAH-tay”). Found in South America — and a member of the holly family — Yerba Mate is consumed throughout many countries in South America, as well as Far Eastern Asia. It has been lauded as both an energizer and remedy for the body. It’s one of the few plants on earth (besides coffee, cola nuts, cocoa and tea) that contains caffeine. While overtly herbaceous in taste, it can be a shock for most Westerners. However, after a few sips, most people prefer it over other caffeine drinks.
No longer a drink merely for pregnant women, caffeine-sensitive individuals, or those trying to catch a bit more sleep, herbals have found a new place in the marketplace. Tisanes are beginning to infuse culture with a wide range of tastes and astounding array of benefits.