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A Closer Look at the Difference Between Teas, Tisanes and Herbal Infusions

Posted on 01/09/2024

What’s in a name? Within the wide ranging and increasingly popular world of botanical infusions, plenty. In this post, we are going to explore the difference between tea, herbal infusions, and tisanes.

We’ll start with a very broad term that encompasses all of the other terms. A botanical infusion is any beverage that is made by pouring hot water over any plant parts. This is the most accurate and inclusive term for talking about the full range of infused beverages, though not quite so helpful for a more focused discussion.

That wonderful, aromatic beverage prepared by pouring hot or boiling water over the processed and dried leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, tea is the most familiar botanical infusion, or at least the most simply and narrowly defined. Any infusion that is not prepared from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant is not technically tea.

Herbal infusions refer to those beverages infused from any plant parts that are not tea leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant. The term herbal tea is often used interchangeably with the term herbal infusion though that is not technically accurate unless it happens to contain tea leaves in addition to the herbs. Herbal infusions are also assumed to mean beverages that do not contain caffeine; this is not true! Some herbal infusions, such as South American yerba maté, guayusa and guarana, contain caffeine, and can have the same stimulating effect as any tea. It is useful to distinguish between tea and herbal infusions, but it does not make things so clear cut for those seeking a non-caffeinated infusion.

If you are looking for a relaxing, low-octane cup, you are typically reaching for a tisane. A tisane is defined as any non-caffeinated beverage made from the infusion of plant material into water. A few of the more famous examples are chamomile, peppermint, and ginger root. Another tisane that is quickly increasing in popularity is South African Rooibos (Red Bush). Tisane is a much more helpful term for narrowing the field to only those infusions that do not include caffeinated plant material. It is the tendency to use it synonymously with the term herbal infusion that can lead to confusion and unintended caffeination.

We hope this information has been enlightening and de-mystifying. Now that you have a primer on the basics, you can venture forth and expand your botanical infusion repertoire with confidence. Until next time, keep sipping!

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