When is the tea you drink not really tea?

Hi, thanks for stopping by. Can I fix you a cup of tisane?

More than likely, if you ever offered that to your tea loving friend they would look at you like you have 2 heads. If you asked them if they would like a great cup of specialty loose leaf tea then they would probably say yes without hesitation.


So what is a tisane and how can you tell the difference between that and real tea?

 A tisane is not a bad thing but it’s just not tea! Let’s take a look at the definition of a tisane.


Tisane / (ti-‘zan)

          An infusion (as of dried herbs) used as a beverage 
or for medicinal effects.

 Tisanes are collected from a variety of plants and herbs. For the most part they tend to be blends which means your drink will have more than just one type of ingredient. The preparation steeping times tend to be longer because of the dried nature of the ingredients. You are re-hydrating the herbs and fruit pieces and that generally takes longer than dried tea leaves.  These herbs are usually very common. This is a great thing because for the most part they are easily grown yourself in a small kitchen garden and starter plants are easily found in your local greenhouse. After they have matured then you must dry the herbs. This can be done in a fruit dehydrator, oven at low temperatures or even right in the sun on drying racks. Store them in airtight containers in a cool room and you are ready all winter long to make your own herbal infusions.          

Popular ingredients for herbal blends are:

  • Rose hips
  • Chamomile
  • Blueberry leaves
  • Stinging Nettle leaves
  • Sunflower blossoms
  • Blue mallow blossoms
  • Ginger
  • Blackberry leaves
  • Cut Verbena
  • Lemongrass
  • Mint


So, what is real tea?

 Tea / te

An aromatic beverage prepared from tea leaves of the
camellia sinensis plant by infusion with boiling water.

 Whether you are drinking a black, green, white, oolong, puer or matcha tea, all of these teas start from the camellia sinensis bush and are then processed to different levels of oxidation to create these different types of teas. YES, all of these teas come from the same bush. There are however 2 different tea bush main varieties: var. sinensis for Chinese teas, and var. assamica for Indian Assam teas. While these are the 2 main varieties, there are other hybrids spread across the world too.

The main tea growing regions are China, India, Japan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Kenya, and even the continental U.S. is making progress in growing tea. The group, US League of Tea Growers, are making great strides in supporting new tea farms and growers in the U.S.


It’s all about the ingredients

Tisanes are not just limited to dried herbs but can also include dried and fresh fruit. It’s possible that you drink tisanes every day without ever calling it that so let’s start with the ingredient statement on your tea packaging. More and more people are concerned today about the quality of their food ingredients that they eat and the tea you drink should not be any different. Always know the ingredients of what you are drinking. Walker Tea prides itself in always providing a full ingredient statement for every product we sell.


Let’s start with our own Chamomile Comfort herbal blend ingredient statement:

  • Aniseeds
  • Chamomile blossoms
  • Sage blossoms

Did you see any mention of tea at all? Is there any black tea, green tea, oolong tea, white tea, puer tea or even a hint of matcha tea? Nope and that’s OK. This qualifies as a tisane. This is a great tasting popular herbal blend with the added benefit of no caffeine either.  


Now let’s take a look at a green tea we carry called Japan Sencha.


  • Japan Sencha green tea


One ingredient. Sencha green tea from Japan.

We have a winner! This is an actual tea that originated from the camellia sinensis plant. There are no added ingredients or flavorings.

Now let’s take a look at a black tea called Earl Grey.

Earl grey tea is a worldwide favorite for its citrus flavor obtained from a bergamot orange. It’s one of the most popular teas on the planet. So let’s take a look at our ingredients.

  • Ceylon black tea
  • Yunnan black tea
  • Natural French bergamot oil


That’s it! 3 ingredients.

But wait. Let’s break that down a little bit.

First of all we have 2 different black teas. Ceylon black tea is the first ingredient listed so this is the majority of ingredient by weight. Ceylon tea comes from the country formerly called Ceylon, until it became a republic in 1972 and changed its name to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is located off the south east coast of India and is a major growing region for specialty loose leaf teas. Yunnan black tea comes from the Yunnan province in China believed to be the birthplace of tea. The only ingredient that is not tea is bergamot oil that comes from citrus growers in France. So even this tea we are going to classify as a flavored tea blend. It has a blended element of having 2 different teas from different growing regions in addition to the bergamot flavoring.


Why then do we call tisanes tea?

Mostly because of tradition. Tisanes are associated with tea because of the way it is prepared and consumed. Prepare boiling water, let steep, (versus a brewing method like coffee), and then drink hot or iced. Tisanes are a wonderful hot drink on a cold winter’s night but they are just not tea. 


Stephen Walker
Stephen Walker


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