When referring to tea or herbal tea more often than not they refer to Tisanes. Which as a self-proclaimed tea snob it can occasionally get on my nerves. So, today I wish to set the record straight, whilst I thought at the same doing a little bit of education about where exactly Tisanes have come from throughout history. But unfortunately, I will only be focusing on the most common tisanes.
So first things first the word “tisane” refers to any plant parts, excluding tea plants, that are used in conjunction with hot water, to make a hot beverage, and usually does not contain caffeine. Today’s Tisanes are a blend of dried herbs, flowers, roots, nuts, fruits, and natural flavours, which are fresh or dried. Tisanes are usually categorised by what part of the plant they come from. Here are some examples of each of the major categories of tisanes: leaf, flower, bark, fruit/berry and seed/spice. Few glad to have that off my chest.
Now the word Tisane (pronounced tee-zahn) has many claimed origins, some sources credit the term coming from the Greek word ptisanē (originally referring to a beverage made from the crushed grains of pearl barley). Others refer to the French as coining the term, one could argue that Ti (Tea) and Sans (French for “without”) or Ti (Tea) and Sine (Latin for “without”) could mean “tea without tea”, as a tea without tea could be a hot beverage with anything but tea leaves in it.
A conception of the interchangeable term “tea”, within the western world begins with the experience of the American colonies during the Revolutionary War. During that time, tea (actual tea) was a major staple of many people on both sides of the Atlantic, and taxation of its importation was symbolic of the control levied by England over the colonial citizens. The colonists were strongly inclined to find a substitute, and so invented what they called “freedom tea”, or “herbal tea”, which contained no tea but could be sourced locally without import fees. It is believed that from that point onward the idea of “tea” and “herbal tea” became so conflated that each subsequent generation lost the ability to tell the difference.
Arguably the most famous herbal tea begins its journey in ancient Egypt. Tisanes have been used for nearly as long as written history extends, the first recorded mention of Chamomile was in a document known as the Ebers Papyrus, dating back to 1550 BC, these documents talk about the actual enjoyment in drinking tisanes which were and still are regarded as social leant., Chamomile has endured a lasting fame, as it was used to honour the gods, embalm the dead and cure the sick. This light, sweet, apple-like and floral beverage is still revered for its uncanny calming effect.
Containing a range of fruits, spices and herbs, fruit teas or tisanes are caffeine free blends. The most common ingredient in fruit teas is Hibiscus, a crimson flower that yields a deep red colour for each cup and a powerful tart sweetness. Hibiscus was another one of the popular tisanes used in Egypt, it was once known as “karkade”. Dried fruits, fruit peel, fruit oils, blossoms and spices are used by tea blenders to achieve just the right blend of visual appeal and flavour profile.
In China, tisanes are also extremely popular. The traditional medicinal use of the tisanes is seen as a natural cure for many diseases. The beverage is also used for enhancing health. The Chinese term “liang cha” means actually “cooling tea”, a very inspired term because it is believed this beverage cools down the body when it is overheated by sickness or weather change.
Dating back to the Greeks, the caffeine-free home remedy known as Peppermint has been used for aiding digestion and soothing the stomach. During these times, dinning was made more pleasant by rubbing the tables with Peppermint. However, not all herbal teas of that time were as pleasant. In fact, some were deadly, such as Hemlock, which remains unavailable in many cafes, due to its unfortunate side effects. Philosophers will kindly remind us that Socrates, the father of modern thought, was sentenced to death by drinking the brew known as Hemlock.
Rooibos has skyrocketed in popularity, despite being a newcomer to the tisane scene. Rooibos is also known as “Red Bush Tea” or simply “Red Tea,” it was introduced as a substitute for black tea. Virtually all supplies of Japanese and Chinese teas suddenly became unavailable, during World War II. The tea-addicted Western culture scoured the world for an alternative, finally discovering caffeine-free Rooibos, which grows only in South Africa. Rooibos blends extremely well with a variety of flavours and has a rich, slightly sweet flavour that is also excellent alone
Finally, Yerba Mate is the new drink of the herbal market. Consumed throughout much of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and the Far East, this South American botanical from the holly family, has been lauded as a cultural phenomenon that both energises and remedies the body. Yerba Mate, or simply “Mate” is one of the few plants on earth (along with coffee, cocoa and tea) that contains the stimulant caffeine. Drinking it from the traditional, hollowed-out gourd as well as the herby taste tends to be a bit unusual for new consumers, but after a few sips, most folks embrace it like it one of their own. Mate has now been introduced to the US as a substitute for coffee and is attracting wider attention, after originally becoming stranded in its own niche cultural market.
Don’t forget to have some tea on me.