Not all tea is tea
(ddna) It’s the 1-million-euro question: What is tea? And what is not tea?
Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world, surpassed only by water. An often surprising fact for tea novices is that all types of tea (black, green, oolong, white and pu’erh) come from the same plant. The scientific name of this versatile plant is Camellia Sinensis (it is actually related to the beautiful camellia flowers you see in botanical gardens and landscapes). Camellia sinensis is a subtropical evergreen plant native to Asia, but has long been grown (almost) all over the world. There, where it is usually quite warm to very warm. The tea plant grows best in loose, deep soil, at high altitudes and in subtropical climates. In short, „tea“ is anything derived from the Camellia sinensis plant.
Many beverages labeled as „tea“ are not actually tea. Herbal teas, which tea experts refer to as tisanes (a French word for „herbal tea“), are usually dried flowers, fruits, or herbs infused in boiling water (no actual tea leaves are included). Historically consumed for medicinal purposes or as a caffeine-free alternative, many tisanes (pronounced tih-ZANN) are beginning to find their fans outside the tea world. A note: In Europe and some other countries, the use of the word „tea“ is regulated by law and refers only to beverages made from Camellia sinensis (tea plant).
Virtually any flower, fruit or herb that can be steeped in water and ingested can become a tea. Just take a trip to your local health food store and you’ll find dozens of „medicinal herbal teas“ that promise a great deal, from relaxation to rejuvenation to a hyperactive love life. We’ll focus on just a few of the notable herbal teas: some old classics and some new favorites.
Probably the most famous herbal tea finds its roots in ancient Egypt: chamomile tea. The first recorded mention of drinking chamomile is found in a document known as the „Ebers Papyrus,“ which dates back to 1550 BC. Used to honor the gods, embalm the dead and heal the sick, chamomile has achieved lasting fame. This light, sweet, apple-like and floral drink is still revered for its uncanny calming effects.
Peppermint has been used for thousands of years as a caffeine-free, digestive and stomach-soothing home remedy, dating back to the Greeks. At that time, tables were rubbed with peppermint to make eating more pleasant. However, not all herbal teas of the time were so pleasant. Some were, in fact, deadly. Socrates, the father of modern thought, absolutely did not like his brew called hemlock.
Fruit teas, or tisanes, are caffeine-free blends that contain a variety of fruits, spices and herbs. The most common ingredient in fruit teas is hibiscus, a crimson flower that gives the cup a deep red color and a strong, tart sweetness. Hibiscus is naturally rich in vitamin C. Tea blenders use dried fruits, fruit peels, fruit oils, flowers and spices to achieve just the right blend of visually beautiful and good taste.
Rooibos is still relatively new on tea menus – measured by the fact that all other teas are very, very old. Rooibos is also known as „Red Bush Tea“ or simply „Red Tea“, it was introduced as a replacement for black tea. During World War II, virtually all supplies of Japanese and Chinese teas suddenly became unavailable. Tea-addicted Western culture searched the world over for an alternative and eventually discovered caffeine-free rooibos, which grows only in South Africa. Rooibos has a rich, slightly sweet flavor that is excellent on its own and blends beautifully with a variety of flavors.
The newest drink on the herbal market is called yerba mate. This South American plant from the holly family is consumed in much of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and the Far East. Yerba mate, or simply „mate,“ is hailed as a cultural phenomenon that charges the body with energy and also heals it. Mate is one of the few plants on earth (along with coffee, cocoa and tea) that contain caffeine. The herbaceous taste is a bit unfamiliar to newcomers, especially since this tea is drunk from a hollowed-out gourd when done correctly. In the U.S., mate is increasingly becoming a substitute for coffee.
Herbal mixtures – Tisanes
Blends of the above and many other herbs – are also becoming increasingly popular. The wide variety of tisanes makes the possible combinations almost unlimited. Herbal drinks are no longer just a drink for pregnant women, those sensitive to caffeine, or those trying to get a few hours of sleep, but have found a new place in the market. Tisanes are beginning to expand the hot beverage culture into the endless with a wide range of flavors. They have broken away from their bigger brothers, coffee and tea, and forged their own independent path.
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