Although it is most commonly referred to by the moniker “herbal tea blends”, the vast varieties of steeped herbal beverages that are enjoyed all over the world are not really teas at all. In fact, tisanes (the more accurate term for herbal teas) don’t even come from the same plant as true teas. Black, white, green, and oolong tea have the same source: the camellia sinensis plant. The distinctive appearance and taste of any type of true tea comes from how the leaves are prepared once they are harvested. Altering the amount of time camellia sinensis leaves are given to dry and oxidize determines the style of tea that will result; the more time tea leaves spend in the curing process, the stronger and bolder they will be.
While tisanes packaged, sold, and prepared in the same way as true teas, their origins could not be more different. True teas are made exclusively from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant. Tisanes can have a variety of sources; the most common sources are the South American yerba mate plant, the South African rooibos bush, and any number of herb plants native to all parts of the world. They can be made by drying different parts of the plants from which they come. Tisanes are typically categorized by the part of the plant that is used to make them. Many tea drinkers would be surprised to learn that a large number of the most common “teas” on the market today are actually tisanes: mint and lemongrass (leaf tisanes), chamomile and lavender (flower tisanes), peach, raspberry and apple (fruit tisanes), ginger and Echinacea (root tisanes), cinnamon and black cherry (bark tisanes), and fennel and cardamom (seed or spice tisanes). Unlike camellia sinensis, the plant sources of tisanes are used for much more than their leaves. Because they come from such a wide range of plants and plant parts, tisanes offer many more options in flavor than true teas. The wide variety of tisane flavors is often used to create flavored tea blends; true teas are mixed with tisanes to create varieties such as Chai.
Tisanes of all kinds have been steeped for centuries. The ancient civilizations in Egypt and China left behind documented uses of tisanes for medicinal purposes as well as their general consumption for enjoyment. Either in pure form or blended from various plant sources, tisanes were thought to have had a wealth of healthy properties that could ease anxiety and help to restore health. Tisanes continue to be popular for both their delicious flavors and health benefits today. They are naturally caffeine free (even decaffeinated true teas still contain trace amounts of caffeine), rich in antioxidants and vitamins, and are available in a broad array of flavors and blends. No matter what your taste preferences are, you’re sure to find at least a few tisanes that satisfy your palate. Tisane varieties are just as readily available, easy to prepare, and maybe for some even more tasty than true teas.
There are thousands of varieties of tea throughout the world, and even among these the tea can be processed in a unique and different way. India’s Assam region harvests the most tea, and second in total world production is Sri Lanka. Among the varieties of tea are oolongs, assam, darjeeling, silver needle, wuyi, gyokuro, sencha, dragon well, white peony, and ceylon. There are thousands of types of teas, and the choices can be overwhelming. Most of these different types fall under four main types. These four main ones are ones which you are probably familiar with if you are a regular tea drinker: green, black, oolong, and white teas.
Do the Different Types of Teas Come from Different Plants?
There is only one type of plant that tea comes from, which may surprise someone who is new to the world of tea. All tea comes from the Camellia sinesis plant. There are some teas, called tisanes, which don’t come from Camellia sinesis. These include chamomile and herbal teas. But a newcomer might wonder how the single plant produces so many different types of teas.
If Teas All Come from the Same Plant, What Makes Them Different?
Anything can change the outcome of a tea. And there is a lot that affects the Camellia sinesis plant. Changes in the weather or different altitudes can impact how a tea turns out. Different parts of the world have different climates and different compounds of soil. These account for very varied types of teas that exist in the world today. A look at the four main types of tea:
Green tea is pretty well known these days and it offers many health benefits. It’s harvested in the spring, and after harvesting the oxidation process is stopped. Green tea is fermented a little longer. Some types are grown in the shade, and some are grown in sunshine. It’s a common variety of tea and can be found in most grocery stores, but there are certain types of this tea which are incredibly expensive. Some types of green tea can cost hundreds for a few ounces.
Black tea is oxidized more than the other three types of teas. The leaves are left to dry until they turn dark. It is also known to have health benefits as the other types. Black tea has much more caffeine than the other types of tea, and is consumed more world wide than the other types of tea.
Oolong, also called wu long, has a longer oxidation process, like black tea. Oolong tea varies in taste, but can have a woody or flowery flavor. Oolong is similar to green and black teas, and is a cross between the two.
White tea is harvested in the spring, like green tea. It’s sweet in taste and has a delicious aroma. It is the least fermented type of tea and goes through a very simple process. It’s simply left out to be dried by the sun or in a room with specially controlled climate. It has health benefits that include its ability to fight cancer and fight off organisms that cause disease.