In the Western world, even though almost anything dried and rehydrated can be called tea, true tea comes from a single plant. Technically, only tea that is made from the Camellia sinensis plant, aka the Tea Plant, can be called tea - anything else is considered a tisane or herbal infusion. Tisanes can be flowers, fruits, herbs, roots, and more. Even a blend of true tea and a flower or herb, such as Jasmine tea, is not traditionally considered true tea.
Just as the wine connoisseurs geek out over consists of nothing but grapes, true tea must only consist of leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant.
So, what is tea?
Proper tea must come from the Camellia Sinensis plant, aka the Tea Plant - anything else is considered a tisane or herbal infusion. There are six main categories of tea: green, yellow, wu long (oolong), red (what the West calls black), and black (dark). Tea has a long history of being used in societies worldwide, originating in China. Tea is not seen as a medicine; its consumption is part of a well-rounded, healthy lifestyle.
What is a tisane?
A tisane is a beverage made of steeped plant material in hot water. It could be leaves, roots, stems, spices, flowers, fruits, herbs - the list is endless! Almost anything you can eat, you can steep into hot water and make a tisane. It’s a cultural misnomer that this drink category has been given the same name as true tea. But, in reality, there’s no tea in them at all. Tisanes tend to be caffeine free, while tea from the Tea Plant will have detectable levels of caffeine. In Chinese medicine, many tisanes are recommended for their health benefits.
Relating Tea and Tisanes to Wine
We have a super easy comparison of understanding this concept of what is and isn’t tea. When we think of wine, we immediately consider it the kind that comes from grapes. But there can be plum or apple wine, which are technically not the wine we anticipate. Similarly, anything blended with grape wine and another herb would be called sangria (like jasmine tea).
Tea follows the same idea. True tea must come from the Camellia sinensis plant, blends are like sangria, and tisanes are like plum wine where there are no grapes at all!
At Tea Drunk, we are highly specialized in very specific true tea (from the Camellia sinensis plant). We focus exclusively on cultivar-specfic, vintage-specific, and terroir-specific teas. You can learn more about this incredible plant with our learning materials on the Tea Drunk Academy!