by Naomi Rosen
Not all "tea" is tea. It seems that if you can pour hot water on it, and drink it a few minutes later, it's marketed as tea. In my opinion, this creates a lot of confusion for people new to tea drinking. Or, maybe I'm just a snob. Either way, I prefer to use the term "tea" when I am discussing the actual leaf from a camellia sinensis plant. Tea can be broken down further into classifications based on how it has been processed: white, green, yellow, oolong, black, puerh, blended, orthodox...you get the picture. But what about a mint or chamomile herbal blend? If I don't call them "tea", then what are they? In the case of beverages that are the result of steeping something other than tea leaves, the preferred term is "tisanes". Like tea, tisanes also have categories:
- Herbal - Dried plants like chamomile, lavender, mint, hibiscus, etc.
- Fruit and Nut Blends - Dried fruits such as apple, berries, almonds, citrus peels, etc.
- Rooibos - Rooibos is a plant grown/harvested for the most part in South Africa with a naturally sweet flavor and many of the same antioxidant and health components of tea. The plant is naturally caffeine free and commonly blended with similar flavor profiles as tea (strawberry, peach, chai, etc.).
- Yerba mate - That holly family has a lot of drinkable relatives and yerba mate is one of the most popular tisanes consumed in South America. You might have scene pictures of people drinking a beverage out of a hollowed out gourd and a metal straw. This would be yerba mate! Don't be fooled by the holly though, this leaf packs a caffeinated punch.
- Guayusa - A relative of the holly plant, this herb grows naturally in the Amazon and has been consumed for centuries by the locals in that region. It does have caffeine and is commonly blended with other herbals to give it a different flavor.
- Yaupon - While this plant has thrived in North America for centuries, it's more popular holly cousins (yerba mate and guayusa) have gained more notariety recently.