Tea that isn't tea

Posted by Tony Noto on

Welcome back, tea lovers!

In an earlier post I talked about what tea is. Today I want to tell you about a drink we call tea, but really isn't tea at all. If that sounds confusing, don't worry, it's not really. 

Tisane (it's French)

Some of the beverages we call tea actually fall into the category of tisane (tih-ZANN), which is a French word for "herbal infusion." You know them as herbal teas or fruit teas. Those of you more into tea may also have heard of Rooibos and Yerba Mate, both also considered tisanes. Tisanes are usually dried flowers, fruits or herbs that are steeped in boiling water, and the reason they are not technically "teas" is that there is no actual leaves from Camellia sinensis, the tea plant. Tisanes are a caffeine-free alternative to real tea and are becoming quite popular, especially for the health and medicinal benefits they provide. 

It's interesting to note that in Europe, the word "tea" is legally regulated to only apply to Camellia sinensis. But here in the U.S., we can continue to call tisanes herbal tea.

Herbal "teas"

I think everyone has heard of chamomile, probably the most famous of the herbal teas. It is revered for its calming effects and as a sleep aid. It is believed that the first mention of chamomile being used was in 1550 BC in a document known as the Ebers Papyrus. Chamomile was used to cure the sick, and for those unfortunates who couldn't be cured, used to embalm the dead. 

Mint, specifically peppermint, has been used for millennia to aid digestion and to soothe the stomach. This dates back to the ancient Greeks, who used to rub peppermint on tables to make dining more pleasant. Modern restaurants provide peppermints at their hostess stands for customers to take as they leave. Most think the mints are there for freshening their breath (yes, it helps), but soothing the stomach and helping digestion is a side benefit.

 Chamomile herbal "tea"

These tisanes fall into the category of "functional medicinals." Those into holistic cures will choose our Turmeric Ginger, for instance, to treat chronic pain and inflammation over Tylenol because Turmeric has anti-inflammation properties. The combination of turmeric with ginger, lemon and honey is an ancient recipe for longevity, stamina and balance.

It makes me wonder what the first persons to try these herbal teas were thinking. Was it like, 'Hey, I think I'll boil these flowers together and see what happens' kind of thing? Imagine the surprised look on the guy who first brewed Hemlock, also considered an "herbal tea." 


Fruit "teas"

Like Chamomile's fame is to herbal teas, hibiscus' fame is to "fruit teas." The Hibiscus flower is the most common ingredient in this style of tisane, producing a red liquor (You remember liquor, right? The liquid of brewed tea and not an alcoholic beverage in this case?) with tart sweetness and high in vitamin C. 

 Fruit Tea

Our tea blenders use dried fruits, fruit peel, fruit oils, blossoms and spices to achieve just the right blend to create visual appeal and a fantastic flavor profile. I recommend Grandma's Garden Fruit Tea if you're looking to try a fruit tea for the first time. It is an elaborate mixture full of rich berry flavors: Apple pieces, black currants, strawberry and raspberry pieces, and wild strawberry leaves give this tea a burst of taste. Wonderful hot or cold!


The "Red Tea" or "Red Bush Tea" are other names for Rooibos, which is becoming a very popular caffeine-free alternative to regular black tea. Rooibos has a rich, slightly sweet flavor that makes it an excellent candidate to mix with other flavors, or enjoyed as is. 

A common story told about the emergence of rooibos is that during WWII, almost all the supplies of Japanese and Chinese teas were suddenly no longer available to the West. Especially affected were the tea-addicted British, and to some extent the U.S., so they began looking for a substitute for their black tea. Searching the world for an alternative, they discovered the caffeine-free rooibos, which grows only in South Africa. 

Yerba Maté 

 Yerba Mate

This South American botanical from the holly family is one of the few plants on earth that contains caffeine, like coffee, tea and cocoa. It is consumed throughout Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina and has really taken the herbal tea market by storm. Known simply as "maté" (MAH-tay), Yerba Maté boasts properties that both energizes and heals the body. 

An Argentinian man came into the shop not too long ago and told me how drinking Yerba Maté is quite ceremonial. To do it right, you have to drink it out of a hollowed-out gourd. Though we both agreed that most Americans won't want to be bothered with gourds in their cupboards, Maté is still growing in popularity here and worldwide.

A word about Ayurveda

According to WebMD (2019), "Ayurvedic medicine (“Ayurveda” for short) is one of the world's oldest holistic (“whole-body”) healing systems. It was developed more than 3,000 years ago in India.

It’s based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. Its main goal is to promote good health, not fight disease. But treatments may be geared toward specific health problems.

In the United States, it’s considered a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)." [WebMD, 2019, retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/ayurvedic-treatments#1]

Several of the teas we have on hand at Uptown Tea Shop are considered Ayurvedic, including Women's Blend Herbal, Good Night Sleep Tight, Calming Tea and Cold Season, to name a few.


Tisanes are growing in popularity and are no longer for the caffeine-sensitive or those trying to get some sleep. They are neither coffee nor tea, but with such a wide diversity of tastes and properties, tisanes are coming into their own.

Now that you know what tea is, and isn't, next time I'll tell you how to brew the perfect cup of tea. 


As always, we invite your comments, and if you enjoyed this post or know someone who could benefit from reading this, please share it. Be sure to shop this website for tisanes as well as your favorite tea, and if you're near Charlotte, NC, please stop in and see us.


Best regards!


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