Only Camellia sinensis is truly tea, though many other steeped beverages are commonly called teas.
A tisane is a steeped beverage made from a plant or plants other than the Camellia sinensis plant. These might include herbs, rooibos, flowers, dried fruits and spices. Some common tisanes include Camomile, peppermint and raspberry leaf "teas".
Tisanes are in no way inferior to tea, they are just different. In fact, tisanes can be a better choice of beverage in some situations. They generally contain little or no tannin (please note that tannic acid is one kind of tannin, but it is not the tannin found in tea), which means they don't become bitter when steeped for longer periods of time than tea leaves. Tisanes usually don't contain caffeine either, which can make them a better choice for evening enjoyment.
Don't make the mistake of assuming that all tisanes are safe for everyone. Natural does not automatically equal safe. Some are not considered safe for small children. Some can interact with medications, or may be harmful if you are pregnant, nursing or have certain medical conditions. In some cases, an herbal tisane might be safe in small quantities, but can become harmful if too much is consumed.
*Since I'm not a nutritionist or a doctor, I won't be making any sort of health claims about the teas and tisanes that I sell, nor can I recommend a tea or tisane to help you with a health problem that you may be experiencing. There is an ever-expanding array of herbal tisanes and blends being offered on the market, please be safe and research the safety of each ingredient before drinking.
Many people are surprised to learn that Green tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, just like black, Oolong, Darjeeling and white teas do. The difference is in the cultivation, processing and usually the cultivar. While technically you can make about any type of tea from any old tea plant, cultivars are carefully selected for best performance in the soil and climate where they are planted, so as to produce the best qualities for each type of tea.
There are myriad styles of green teas available on the market. I'm going to give you a brief description of a few of them here. Very brief. As in, this information is only a drop in the bucket when it comes to the subject of green tea.
Gyokuro Green tea is the finest grade of Japanese green tea. It is quite expensive, often costing 4x the price of sencha, or more. The tea plants are kept in shade for 20+ days before harvesting, and then processed like Sencha. The shade causes the plants to produce more chlorophyll, and results in a brighter green leaf, a more true green infusion, and higher caffeine content. The resulting tea is also slightly sweeter, has more Umami, and is lower in tannins. The procedure for steeping Gyokuro is different from other green teas. The water temperature is lower, and more tea leaves are used per cup. Gyokuro is grown in the Yame, Uiji and Asahina regions of Japan.
Matcha is typically Gyokuro that has been ground to a fine powder. This is the tea that is used for the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. I have also seen it used as an ingredient in baking recipes, as a seasoning and as an ingredient in smoothies. The caffeine content in matcha is also higher than Sencha (you are consuming the leaves, after all), and the flavor is much like Gyokuro.
Gunpowder is a Chinese style of green tea, produced by rolling the tea leaves into balls, rather than into cylinders. It is often pan-fired, which gives it a smokey flavor. It is called "gunpowder" because an early importer thought the rolled leaves resembled gunpowder.
Sencha is a Japanese style of green tea that is grown in full sun, and is harvested from the first flush (new leaves and buds from the earliest part of the growing season). Once the leaves are picked, they are steamed, rolled into cylinders, then dried and crumpled.
Sencha is typically produces a slightly bitter, slightly sweet infusion. It is the every-day tea of Japan. The tea is a light yellowish-green color, due to full sun the plants receive. Sencha is often used for flavored teas, because its own flavor is mild. This allows for a light, harmonious flavored tea, rather than strong flavors competing for attention.
Bancha style green tea is the second flush (harvest) of the same plants that produced the Sencha tea. It is considered a lower grade of green tea, and the flavor is stronger than Sencha.
Hyson green tea comes from the Anhui province of China. It is characterized by rolled leaves with a slightly twisted appearance. Though Hyson is considered by some to be a low grade of tea (sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't), it has a wonderful savory flavor.
A few final bits of green tea trivia for you:
Green teas are not oxidized before drying, but contrary to popular myth, green tea most certainly does contain caffeine.
Green teas are steeped at a lower temperature than black teas, around 175 degrees Farenheit, and for a shorter amount of time (about 2-3 minutes). You'll get a lot of bang for your buck with green tea, because you can re-infuse the same leaves 2-3 times.
I generally prefer to drink black tea and most herbals with a bit of sugar, but I don't feel the need for it with green tea. That's kind of handy if you're trying to cut down your sugar intake.
There’s been a bit of hype about Rooibos in recent years, and for good reason. Much as I love tea, there are some things that rooibos does better.
1. Caffeine-free: Unlike tea (and coffee), rooibos is naturally caffeine-free. No additional processing or chemical treatments necessary. If consuming caffeine late in the day keeps you up all night, or your doctor has advised to cut caffeine from your diet, but you love your iced tea with supper, or relaxing cup in the evening, rooibos might be just the ticket.
I consider rooibos to be a good choice when I want to share a relaxing pot of tea with my children.
2. Low in tannin: Rooibos is much lower in tannin than tea. If tannin upsets your stomach, this is very good news. Plus, tannin causes the bitterness in over-steeped tea. If you’re prone to wander off mid-steep and forget about your tea (not that I would know about that!) you won’t come back to a bitter cup with rooibos.
3. Flavor: Rooibos has an earthy, nutty flavor, and I notice a hint of a minty aftertaste. Plain rooibos is not my personal favorite, but I think it takes the addition of flavorings, dried fruit, flower petals and spices very well.
4. Oxalic acid-free: Good news if you’re prone to kidney stones. Rooibos doesn’t contain oxalic acid.
5. High in polyphenols, (antioxidants): If you’re looking for antioxidants in your diet, rooibos has them, but note that green (unoxidized) rooibos has higher antioxidant levels than red (oxidized) rooibos.
6. Contains aspalathin.
7. Contains the antioxidants quercetin and luteolin.
9. Rooibos contains Alpha-hydroxy acid and zinc.
If you want to find out what health benefits may (the jury is still out) be associated with those compounds, a quick internet search will enlighten you. I don't make health claims about tea, I just enjoy drinking it.
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Herb & Fruit tisanes are a really exciting option in the tea world. They are a combination of dried fruits, herbs, flowers and natural flavorings. They smell wonderful, and are pretty to look at, much like potpourri, but their flavors are where they really shine. The flavors are strong, tart, rich and complex, and there is no danger of bitterness from over-steeping.
About the only way to go wrong with steeping these tisanes, is with the steeping water. I have found the well water in some areas (I'm looking at you, Harding County, South Dakota!) can turn what should be a lovely reddish beverage a strange and unappetizing greyish purple color.
All of the herb & fruit tisanes that I offer contain vitamin C, and are free of caffeine. All of them are delicious hot, iced or as a frozen summertime treat. They can be sweetened with Stevia, honey, or sugar, or left unsweetened. Milk will curdle in these tisanes, so save it for your breakfast cereal.
I began offering the herb & fruit tisanes as an option for children, but have found them to be very popular with adults. They are ideal for a Mom (or Grandma) and Me tea party.