Tea is an aromatic beverage commonly prepared by pouring hot or boiling water over cured leaves of the Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub native to Asia. After water, it is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. Some teas, like Darjeeling and Chinese greens, have a cooling, slightly bitter, and astringent flavour, while others have vastly different profiles that include sweet, nutty, floral, or grassy notes.
Tea originated in China as a medicinal drink. It came to the West via Portuguese priests and merchants, introduced to it there during the 16th century. Drinking tea became fashionable among Britons during the 17th century, who introduced the plant to their possessions in India to bypass a Chinese monopoly.
The phrase herbal tea usually refers to infusions of fruit or herbs made without the tea plant, such as steeps of rosehip, chamomile, or rooibos. These are also known as tisanes or herbal infusions to distinguish them from “tea” as it is commonly construed.
Origin and history
A 19th-century Japanese painting depicting Shennong: Chinese legends credit Shennong with the invention of tea.
Tea plants are native to East and South Asia, and probably originated around the meeting points of the lands of north Burma and southwest China. Statistical cluster analysis, chromosome number, easy hybridization, and various types of intermediate hybrids and spontaneous polyploids indicate that likely a single place of origin exists for Camellia sinensis, an area including the northern part of Burma, and Yunnan and Sichuan provinces of China. Tea drinking likely began during the Shang Dynasty in China, when it was used for medicinal purposes. It is believed that, soon after, “for the first time, people began to boil tea leaves for consumption into a concentrated liquid without the addition of other leaves or herbs, thereby using tea as a bitter yet stimulating drink, rather than as a medicinal concoction.”
Tea plant (Camellia sinensis) from Köhler’s Medicinal Plants
Chinese legends attribute the invention of tea to Shennong in 2737 BC. A Chinese inventor was the first person to invent a tea shredder. The first recorded drinking of tea is in China, with the earliest records of tea consumption dating to the 10th century BC. Another early credible record of tea drinking dates to the third century AD, in a medical text by Hua Tuo, who stated, “to drink bitter t’u constantly makes one think better.” Another early reference to tea is found in a letter written by the Qin Dynasty general Liu Kun. It was already a common drink during the Qin Dynasty (third century BC) and became widely popular during the Tang Dynasty, when it was spread to Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. In India, it has been drunk for medicinal purposes for a long but uncertain period, but apart from the Himalayan region seems not to have been used as a beverage until the British introduced Chinese tea there.
Tea-weighing station north of Batumi, Russian Empire before 1915
Tea was first introduced to Portuguese priests and merchants in China during the 16th century, at which time it was termed chá. The first record in English is from Peter Mundy an East India Company agent writing to Macao requesting “the best sort of chaw” in 1615. In 1750, tea experts travelled from China to the Azores, and planted tea, along with jasmine and mallow, to give it aroma and distinction. Both green and black tea continue to grow on the islands, which are the main suppliers to continental Portugal. Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II of England, took the tea habit to Great Britain around 1660 when it was tasted by Samuel Pepys, but tea was not widely consumed in Britain until the 18th century, and remained expensive until the latter part of that period.
Tea smuggling during the 18th century led to Britain’s masses being able to afford and consume tea, and its importance eventually influenced the Boston Tea Party. The British government eventually eradicated the tax on tea, thereby eliminating the smuggling trade by 1785. In Britain and Ireland, tea had become an everyday beverage for all levels of society by the late 19th century, but at first it was consumed as a luxury item on special occasions, such as religious festivals, wakes, and domestic work gatherings such as quiltings. The price in Europe fell steadily during the 19th century, especially after Indian tea began to arrive in large quantities.
The first European to successfully transplant tea to the Himalayas, Robert Fortune, was sent by the East India Company on a mission to China in 1848 to bring the tea plant back to Great Britain. He began his journey in high secrecy as his mission occurred in the lull between the Anglo-Chinese First Opium War (1839–1842) and Second Opium War (1856–1860), at a time when westerners were not held in high regard.
Tea was introduced into India by the British, in an attempt to break the Chinese monopoly on it. The British brought Chinese seeds into Northeast India, but the plants failed; they later discovered that a different variety of tea was endemic to Assam and the northeast region of India and that it was used by local tribes. Using the Chinese planting and cultivation techniques, the British launched a tea industry by offering land in Assam to any European who agreed to cultivate it for export. Tea was originally consumed only by anglicized Indians; it became widely popular in India in the 1950s because of a successful advertising campaign by the India Tea Board.
Cultivation and harvesting
A tea plantation, Bandung in Indonesia
Camellia sinensis is an evergreen plant that grows mainly in tropical and subtropical climates. Some varieties can also tolerate marine climates and are cultivated as far north as Cornwall in the United Kingdom, Perthshire in Scotland, Washington state in the United States, Vancouver Island in Canada, and experimentally in Pembrokeshire, Wales in the Northern Hemisphere. Also as far south as Hobart on the Australian island of Tasmania, and Waikatoin New Zealand in the Southern Hemisphere.
Leaves of Camellia sinensis, the tea plant
Tea plants are propagated from seed and cuttings; about 4 to 12 years are needed for a plant to bear seed and about three years before a new plant is ready for harvesting. In addition to azone 8 climate or warmer, tea plants require at least 127 cm (50 in) of rainfall a year and prefer acidic soils. Many high-quality tea plants are cultivated at elevations of up to 1,500 m (4,900 ft) above sea level. While at these heights the plants grow more slowly, they acquire a better flavour.
Two principal varieties are used: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, which is used for most Chinese, Formosan and Japanese teas, and C. s. var. assamica, used in Pu-erh and most Indian teas (but not Darjeeling). Within these botanical varieties, many strains and modern clonal varieties are known. Leaf size is the chief criterion for the classification of tea plants, with three primary classifications being, Assam type, characterised by the largest leaves; China type, characterised by the smallest leaves; and Cambodian type, characterised by leaves of intermediate size.
A tea plant will grow into a tree of up to 16 m (52 ft) if left undisturbed, but cultivated plants are generally pruned to waist height for ease of plucking. Also, the short plants bear more new shoots which provide new and tender leaves and increase the quality of the tea.
Only the top 1–2 in of the mature plant are picked. These buds and leaves are called ‘flushes’. A plant will grow a new flush every seven to 15 days during the growing season. Leaves that are slow in development tend to produce better-flavoured teas. Pests of tea include mosquito bugs of the genus Helopeltis (which are true bugs that must not be confused with the dipteran) that can tatter leaves, so they may be sprayed with insecticides.
Processing and classification
Common processing methods of tea leaves
Fresh tea leaves in various stages of growth; the smaller the leaf, the more expensive the tea
Tea is generally divided into categories based on how it is processed. At least six different types are produced:
• White: Wilted and unoxidized
• Yellow: Unwilted and unoxidized, but allowed to yellow
• Green: Unwilted and unoxidized
• Oolong: Wilted, bruised, and partially oxidized
• Black: Wilted, sometimes crushed, and fully oxidized (called ‘red tea’ in China)
• Post-Fermented: Green tea that has been allowed to ferment/compost (‘black tea’ for the Chinese)
The most common are white, green, oolong, and black. Some varieties, such as traditional oolong and Pu-erh, a post-fermented tea, can be used medicinally.
After picking, the leaves of C. sinensis soon begin to wilt and oxidize unless immediately dried. An enzymatic oxidation process triggered by the plant’s intracellular enzymes causes the leaves to turn progressively darker as their chlorophyll breaks down and tannins are released. This darkening is stopped at a predetermined stage by heating, which deactivates the enzymes responsible. In the production of black teas, halting by heating is carried out simultaneously with drying.
Tea harvest on the eastern shores of the Black Sea, circa 1905–15
Without careful moisture and temperature control during manufacture and packaging, growth of undesired molds and bacteria may make tea unfit for consumption.
Blending and additives
Although single-estate teas are available, almost all tea in bags and most loose tea sold in the West is blended. Such teas may combine others from the same cultivation area or several different ones. The aim is to obtain consistency, better taste, higher price, or some combination of the three.
Tea easily retains odors, which can cause problems in processing, transportation, and storage. This same sensitivity also allows for special processing (such as tea infused with smoke during drying) and a wide range of scented and flavoured variants, such as bergamot (found in Earl Grey), vanilla, and spearmint.
Caffeine constitutes about 3% of tea’s dry weight, translating to between 30 mg and 90 mg per 8-oz (250-ml) cup depending on type, brand, and brewing method.
Tea also contains small amounts of theobromine and theophylline, which are stimulants and xanthines similar to caffeine.
Nutrients and phytochemicals
Black and green teas contain no essential nutrients in significant content, with the exception of the dietary mineral, manganese at 0.5 mg per cup or 26% of the Daily Value. Tea leaves contain diverse polyphenols, including flavonoids, epigallocatechin gallate (commonly noted as EGCG) and othercatechins.
It has been suggested that green and black tea may protect against cancer or other diseases such as obesity or Alzheimer’s disease .
Iced tea with a slice of lemon
Tea may be consumed early in the day to heighten calm alertness; Decaffeinated brands are also sold. While herbal teas are also referred to as tea, most of them do not contain leaves from the tea plant.
While tea is the second most consumed beverage on Earth after water, in many cultures it is also consumed at elevated social events, such as afternoon tea and the tea party. Tea ceremonies have arisen in different cultures, such as the Chinese and Japanese tea ceremonies
Teakettle boiling water over hot coals at a tea house in Jiufen, Taiwan
Teas of different levels of oxidation (L to R): green, yellow, oolong, and black
The traditional method of preparing tea is to place loose tea leaves directly (or in a tea infuser) into a tea pot orteacup, pour freshly boiled water over the leaves, and allow the infused liquid to steep (or “brew”). After a few minutes, the infuser is removed, or the tea is poured through a strainer while serving. Strength should be varied by the amount of tea leaves used, not changing the steeping time.
Most green teas should be allowed two or three minutes, although other types may vary between thirty seconds and ten minutes.
Taiwanese High Mountain oolong
Quantity also varies by tea type, with a basic recipe calling for one slightly heaped teaspoon (about 5 ml) for each teacup of water (200–240 ml) (7–8 oz). Stronger teas to be drunk with milk (such as Assam) are often prepared more heavily, while more delicate high-grown varieties (such as a Darjeeling) more lightly.
Optimum brewing temperature depends on tea type. Camellia sinensis naturally contains tannins having bitterproperties accentuated by both temperature and steeping time. These tannins are enhanced by oxidation during processing. Teas with little or no oxidation, such as a green or white, are best at lower temperatures between 65 and 85 °C (149 and 185 °F), while more oxidized teas require 100 °C (212 °F) to extract their large, complex, flavourful phenolic molecules.
In addition, boiling reduces the dissolved oxygen content of water, which would otherwise react with phenolic molecules to degrade them.
One way to taste a tea throughout its entire process is to add hot water to a cup containing the leaves and sample it every 30 seconds. As the tea leaves unfold (known as “The Agony of the Leaves”) the taste evolves.
A tea cosy or a teapot warmer are often used to keep the temperature of the tea in a teapot constant over periods of 20–60 minutes.
A traditional cup of black tea in the West
Popular varieties of black tea include Assam, Nepal, Darjeeling, Nilgiri, Turkish, Keemun, and Ceylon teas.
Many of the active substances in black tea do not develop at temperatures lower than 90 °C (194 °F). As a result, black tea in the West is usually steeped in water near its boiling point, at around 99 °C (210 °F). The most common fault when making black tea is to use water at too low a temperature. Since boiling point drops with increasing altitude, it is difficult to brew black tea properly in mountainous areas. Warming the tea pot before steeping is critical at any elevation.
In regions of the world that prefer mild beverages, such as the West and Far East, green tea should be steeped in water around 80 to 85 °C (176 to 185 °F), the higher the quality of the leaves the lower the temperature. Regions such as North Africa or Central Asia prefer a bitter tea, and hotter water is used. In Morocco, green tea is steeped in boiling water for 15 minutes.
Flowering tea or blooming tea should be brewed at 100 °C (212 °F) in clear glass tea wares for up to three minutes. First pull 1/3 water to make the tea ball wet and after 30 seconds add the boiling water up to 4/5 of the capacity of the tea ware. The boiling water can help the tea ball bloom quickly and with a strong aroma of the tea. The height of glass tea ware should be 8-10 cm, which can help the tea and flowers bloom completely. One tea ball can be brewed 4-5 times.
Loose dried tea leaves
Oolong teas should be brewed around 80 to 100 °C (176 to 212 °F), and the brewing vessel should be warmed before pouring in the water. Yixing purple clay teapots are the traditional brewing-vessel for oolong tea. For best results, spring water should be used as the minerals in spring water tend to bring out more flavour in the tea. High-quality oolong can be brewed multiple times from the same leaves, and unlike green tea, it improves with reuse. It is common to brew the same leaves three to five times, the third steeping usually considered the best. In the Chinese and Taiwanese Gongfu tea ceremony, the first brew is not drunk at all but disposed of as it is considered a wash of the leaves rather than a proper brew.
Premium or delicate tea
A strainer is often used when tea is made with tea-leaves in a teapot
Some teas, especially green teas and delicate oolong teas, are steeped for shorter periods, sometimes less than 30 seconds. Using a tea strainer separates the leaves from the water at the end of the brewing time if a tea bag is not being used. However, the black Darjeeling tea, a premium Indian tea, needs a longer than average steeping time. Elevation and time of harvest offer varying taste profiles; proper storage and water quality also have a large impact on taste.
Pu-erh teas require boiling water for infusion. Some prefer to quickly rinse pu-erh for several seconds with boiling water to remove tea dust which accumulates from the ageing process, then infuse it at the boiling point (100 °C or 212 °F), and allow it to steep from 30 seconds to five minutes.
Tea spiced with cinnamon and cardamom covered with a layer of cream
Tea is often taken with milk
The addition of milk to tea in Europe was first mentioned in 1680 by the epistolist Madame de Sévigné. Many teas are traditionally drunk with milk in cultures where dairy products are consumed. These include Indianmasala chai and British tea blends. These teas tend to be very hearty varieties of black tea which can be tasted through the milk, such as Assams, or the East Friesian blend. Milk is thought to neutralise remaining tannins and reduce acidity. The Han Chinese do not usually drink milk with tea but the Manchus do, and the elite of the Qing Dynasty of the Chinese Empire continued to do so.
Huoshan Huangya tea, a yellow tea
Hong Kong-style milk tea is based on British colonial habits. Tibetans and other Himalayan peoples traditionally drink tea with milk or yak butter and salt. In Eastern European countries (Russia, Poland and Hungary) and in Italy, tea is commonly served with lemon juice. In Poland, tea with milk is called a bawarka (“Bavarian style”), and is often drunk by pregnant and nursing women. In Australia, tea with milk is white tea.
Green pu-erh tuo cha, a type of compressed raw pu-erh
Many flavourings are added to varieties of tea during processing. Among the best known are Chinese jasmine tea, with jasmine oil or flowers, the spices in Indian masala chai, and Earl Grey tea, which contains oil of bergamot.
A great range of modern flavours have been added to these traditional ones. In eastern India, people also drink lemon tea or lemon masala tea. Lemon tea simply contains hot tea with lemon juice and sugar. Masala lemon tea contains hot tea with roasted cumin seed powder, lemon juice, black salt and sugar, which gives it a tangy, spicy taste. Adding a piece of ginger when brewing tea is a popular habit of Sri Lankans, who also use other types of spices such as cinnamon to sweeten the aroma.
Turkish tea served in typical small glass and corresponding plate
Other popular additives to tea by the tea-brewer or drinker include sugar, liquid honey or a solid Honey Drop, agave nectar, fruit jams, and mint. In China, sweetening tea was traditionally regarded as a feminine practice. In colder regions, such as Mongolia, Tibet and Nepal, butter is added to provide necessary calories. Tibetan butter tea contains rock salt and dre, a butter made from yak milk, which is churned vigorously in a cylindrical vessel closely resembling a butter churn.
Alcohol, such as whisky or brandy, may also be added to tea.
The flavour of the tea can also be altered by pouring it from different heights, resulting in varying degrees of aeration.
A Morocco woman pouring tea
The art of high-altitude pouring is used principally by people in Northern Africa (e.g. Morocco, Algeria,Mauritania, Libya and Western Sahara), but also in West Africa (e.g. Guinea, Mali, Senegal) and can positively alter the flavour of the tea, but it is more likely a technique to cool the beverage destined to be consumed immediately.
In 1907, American tea merchant Thomas Sullivan began distributing samples of his tea in small bags of Chinese silk with a drawstring. Consumers noticed they could simply leave the tea in the bag and reuse it with fresh tea. However, the potential of this distribution/packaging method would not be fully realised until later on. DuringWorld War II, tea was rationed in the United Kingdom. In 1953 (after rationing in the UK ended), Tetley launched the tea bag to the UK and it was an immediate success.
The “pyramid tea bag” (or sachet) introduced by Lipton and PG Tips/Scottish Blend in 1996, attempts to address one of the connoisseurs’ arguments against paper tea bags by way of its three-dimensional tetrahedron shape, which allows more room for tea leaves to expand while steeping. However, some types of pyramid tea bags have been criticised as being environmentally unfriendly, since their synthetic material is not as biodegradable as loose tea leaves and paper tea bags.
A blend of loose-leaf black teas
The tea leaves are packaged loosely in a canister, paper bag, or other container such as a tea chest. Some whole teas, such as rolled gunpowder tea leaves, which resist crumbling, are sometimes vacuum packed for freshness in aluminised packaging for storage and retail. The loose tea must be individually measured for use, allowing for flexibility and flavor control at the expense of convenience. Strainers, tea balls, tea presses, filtered teapots, and infusion bags prevent loose leaves from floating in the tea and over-brewing. A traditional method uses a three-piece lidded teacup called a gaiwan, the lid of which is tilted to decant the tea into a different cup for consumption.
Compressed tea (such as Pu-erh) is produced for convenience in transport, storage, and ageing. It can usually be stored longer without spoilage than loose leaf tea.
Compressed tea is prepared by loosening leaves from the cake using a small knife, and steeping the extracted pieces in water. During the Tang dynasty, as described by Lu Yu, compressed tea was ground into a powder, combined with hot water, and ladled into bowls, resulting in a “frothy” mixture. In the Song dynasty, the tea powder would instead be whisked with hot water in the bowl. Although no longer practiced in China today, the whisking method of preparing powdered tea was transmitted to Japan by Zen Buddhist monks, and is still used to prepare matcha in the Japanese tea ceremony.
Fuding Bai Hao Yinzhen tea, a white tea
Compressed tea was the most popular form of tea in China during the Tang dynasty. By the beginning of the Ming dynasty, it had been displaced by loose leaf tea. It remains popular, however, in the Himalayan countries and Mongolian steppes. In Mongolia, tea bricks were ubiquitous enough to be used as a form of currency. Among Himalayan peoples, compressed tea is consumed by combining it with yak butter and salt to produce butter tea.
“Instant tea”, both hot and cold, is a popular alternative to the brewed products. Similar to freeze-dried instant coffee, but not requiring boiling water, instant tea was developed in the 1930s. Nestlé introduced the first commercial product in 1946, while Redi-Tea debuted instant iced tea in 1953.
Delicacy of flavour is sacrificed for convenience. Additives such as chai, vanilla, honey or fruit, are popular, as is powdered milk.
During the Second World War British and Canadian soldiers were issued an instant tea known as ‘Compo’ in their Composite Ration Packs. These blocks of instant tea, powdered milk, and sugar were not always well received. As Royal Canadian Artillery Gunner, George C Blackburn observed:
But, unquestionably, the feature of Compo rations destined to be remembered beyond all others is Compo tea…Directions say to “sprinkle powder on heated water and bring to the boil, stirring well, three heaped teaspoons to one pint of water.”
Every possible variation in the preparation of this tea was tried, but…it always ended up the same way. While still too hot to drink, it is a good-looking cup of strong tea. Even when it becomes just cool enough to be sipped gingerly, it is still a good-tasting cup of tea, if you like your tea strong and sweet. But let it cool enough to be quaffed and enjoyed, and your lips will be coated with a sticky scum that forms across the surface, which if left undisturbed will become a leathery membrane that can be wound around your finger and flipped away…
Da Hong Pao tea, an oolong tea
Bottled and canned tea
Canned tea is sold prepared and ready to drink. It was introduced in 1981 in Japan.
In 1983, Swiss-based Bischofszell Food Ltd., was the first company to bottle ice tea on an industrial scale.
Storage conditions and type determine the shelf life of tea. Black tea’s is greater than green’s. Some, such as flower teas, may last only a month or so. Others, such as pu-erh, improve with age.
To remain fresh and prevent mold, tea needs to be stored away from heat, light, air, and moisture. Tea must be kept at room temperature in an air-tight container. Black tea in a bag within a sealed opaque canister may keep for two years. Green tea deteriorates more rapidly, usually in less than a year. Tightly rolled gunpowder tea leaves keep longer than the more open-leafed Chun Mee tea.
Storage life for all teas can be extended by using desiccant or oxygen-absorbing packets, vacuum sealing, or refrigeration in air-tight containers (except green tea, where discrete use of refrigeration or freezing is recommended and temperature variation kept to a minimum).
The five basic styles of tea are White, Green, Oolong, Black and Pu’erh.
White Tea is essentially unprocessed tea. The name is derived from the fuzzy white “down” that appears on the unopened or recently opened buds – the newest growth on the tea bush. White tea is simply plucked and allowed to wither dry. That’s it, really. If the weather isn’t cooperating, the leaves may be put into a gentle tumble dryer on very, very low heat to assist (tea waits for no one, not even spring showers!) But the leaves are not rolled, shaped, etc.
Some minimal oxidation does happen naturally, as it can take a full day or two to air-dry the tea leaves. This is why some white teas, like the classic White Peony, show leaves of differing colors (white, green and brown). White teas produce very pale green or yellow liquor and are the most delicate in flavor and aroma.
Green Tea is plucked, withered and rolled. It is not oxidized because during the rolling process, oxidation is prevented by applying heat. For green tea, the fresh leaves are either steamed or pan-fired (tossed in a hot, dry wok) to a temperature hot enough to stop the enzymes from browning the leaf. Just like blanching vegetables, really. Simultaneously, the leaves are shaped by curling with the fingers, pressing into the sides of the wok, rolling and swirling – countless shapes have been created, all of them tasting different.
The liquor of a green tea is typically a green or yellow color, and flavors range from toasty, grassy (pan fired teas) to fresh steamed greens (steamed teas) with mild, vegetable-like astringency.
Oolong Tea is one of the most time-consuming teas to create. It utilizes all of the five basic steps, with rolling and oxidizing done repeatedly. These teas are anywhere from 8% oxidized to 80% (that’s measured roughly by looking at the amount of brown or red on the leaf while the tea is being made). The leaves are gently rolled, then allowed to rest and oxidize for a while. Then they’ll be rolled again, then oxidized, over and over.
Over the course of many hours (sometimes days), what is created is a beautiful layering or “painting” of aroma and flavor. Oolongs typically have much more complex flavor than Green or White teas, with very smooth, soft astringency and rich in floral or fruity flavors. Because of their smooth yet rich flavor profiles, Oolongs are ideal for those new to tea drinking.
Black Tea also utilizes all five basic steps, but is allowed to oxidize more completely. Also, the steps are followed in a very linear form; they are generally not repeated on a single batch. The tea is completely made within a day. The brewed liquor of a Black tea ranges between dark brown and deep red. Black teas offer the strongest flavors and, in some cases, greatest astringency. Black teas, particularly those from India and Sri Lanka, are regularly drunk with milk and sugar and are the most popular bases for iced tea.
Pu’erh Tea is a completely different art. It first undergoes a process similar to Green tea, but before the leaf is dried, it’s aged either as loose-leaf tea or pressed into dense cakes and decorative shapes. Pu’erh is a fermented tea (and the use of ‘fermentation’ is correct here, although not the type which produces alcohol). Depending on the type of pu’erh being made (either dark “ripe” pu’erh or green “raw” pu’erh), the aging process lasts anywhere from a few months to several years. Very old, well-stored pu’erhs are considered “living teas”, just like wine. They are prized for their earthy, woodsy or musty aroma and rich, smooth taste.
A confusing attribute of tea is that many of the beverages that are called “tea” are actually not tea. Herbal teas, which tea experts term Tisanes (a French word for “herbal infusion”), are usually dried flowers, fruits or herbs steeped in boiling water (no actual tea leaves are included). Historically consumed for medicinal reasons or as a caffeine-free alternative, many Tisanes are beginning to find their own popularity outside the tea world.
Virtually any flower, fruit or herb that can be steeped in water and ingested can become a Tisane. Just take a trip to your local health food store and you’ll find dozens of “medicinal herbal teas” boasting a variety of benefits from relaxation to rejuvenation.
The arguably most famous Herbal tea finds its roots in ancient Egypt. The first recorded mention of Chamomile being enjoyed was in a document known as the Ebers Papyrus, dating back to 1550 BC. Used to honor the gods, embalm the dead and cure the sick, Chamomile has endured a lasting fame. This light, sweet, apple-like beverage is still revered for its uncanny (caffeine-free) calming effect.
Peppermint has been used as a caffeine-free home remedy aiding digestion and soothing the stomach for millennia, dating back to the Greeks. During these times, tables were rubbed with Peppermint to make dining more pleasant.
Fruit teas or tisanes are caffeine free blends containing a range of fruits, spices and herbs. The most common ingredient in fruit teas is Hibiscus, a crimson flower that yields a deep red color to the cup and a powerful tart sweetness. Hibiscus is naturally high in Vitamin C. Tea blenders use dried fruits, fruit peel, fruit oils, blossoms and spices to achieve just the right blend of visual appeal and flavor profile.
A relative newcomer to the Tisane scene here in the United States, Rooibos, is skyrocketing in popularity. Also known as “Red Bush Tea” or simply “Red Tea,” Rooibos was introduced as a substitute for black tea. During World War II, virtually all supplies of Japanese and Chinese teas suddenly became unavailable. The tea-addicted Western culture scoured the world for an alternative, finally discovering caffeine-free Rooibos. Rooibos has a rich, slightly sweet flavor that is excellent alone and blends extremely well with a variety of flavors.
Finally, the newest drink to say “olá” to the herbal market is called Yerba Mate. This South American botanical from the holly family is consumed throughout much of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and the Far East. Yerba Mate, or simply “Mate”, has been lauded as a cultural phenomenon that both energizes and remedies the body. Mate is one of the few plants on earth (along with coffee, cocoa and tea) that contain caffeine. While the taste tends to be quite unusual to newcomers, many folks overlook its unique character to receive the benefits.
Originally stranded in the obscurity of the niche cultural market, it has now been introduced to the US as a substitute for coffee and is attracting wider attention.
Herbal blends – mixtures of these herbs mentioned and many more – are also growing in popularity. The wide diversity of tisanes available makes the combination possibilities virtually unlimited.
No longer a drink merely for the pregnant, caffeine-sensitive or those trying to catch some z’s, Herbals have found a new place in the market. Tisanes are beginning to infuse culture with a wide range of tastes and astounding array of benefits. They have now parted ways with bigger brothers Coffee and Tea and their independence should be recognized.