For those who sell tea, this time of year brings wonderful opportunities to introduce new and unique teas to those looking to purchase a gift of tea ( and to those who shop by the ‘one give for them, one gift for me’ philosophy.)
However, this time of year also brings every mis-conception and false bit of information about tea to the fore. While there is still much confusion in people’s minds concerning this and that about tea, the biggest buggagoo to us (and most likely to all tea sellers) is that many people still do not differentiate between real tea and herbal teas ( or tisanes.) This is an apples/oranges difference….yes, both are fruit but the similarity ends there.
Here are two examples of how entrenched this tea/tisane confusion is. On page 2 of our latest book:The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook ( 2010 Ten Speed Press) we address the tea versus tisane question. We say: “Right up front, let us say that we define tea in the classic, historic sense as a caffeinated beverage brewed from the leaf of the Camellia sinensis bush. While it is commonplace today to refer to noncaffeinated, herbal beverages such as peppermint, chamomile, and lavender as ‘tea’ we believe that such beverages should be called by other, more appropriate names, such as herbal teas, herbal infusions, or tisanes. Many of these beverages are delicious and refreshing, but they lie outside the scope of our book, and we leave discussion of them to others.”
Nevertheless, despite starting out with this statement, our book has been criticized twice this year for not including any discussion of herbal teas or rooibos. So even though our book is about tea and not any of the other steepable products that can produce a hot drink and which are erroneously called ‘tea’, it seems clear that there are those who fail to grasp the clear distinction between these two categories.
This offers an opportunity for us to once again clarify for readers the very important distinction between tea, tisanes and herbal tea. And to say that understanding this difference matters. A lot.
The second reviewer wrote: “Readers who expect information about tea in general and about all of the various leaves used worldwide to revitalize or calm, will, like me, initially be disappointed, as thus book focuses on the tea steeped from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis bush. There is no mention of the infusions that qualify as tea in the layman’s mind, such as rooibos, mate, or tisanes like chamomile or peppermint.”
This review really made me cry. Not just because we are bring criticized for being true to our topic and for only discussing tea, but because this reviewer believes that we should have included non-tea beverages because these other beverages are seen as tea ‘in the layman’s mind.’
This statement implies that we should feed a myth because people believe it to be true. Would this review take issue with an artisan cheese book that did not discuss processed cheese slices? Or a serious wine book that did not discuss fruit-based wine drinks? Should carob be included in a discussion or chocolate, or chicory be a part of the study of premium coffee? If inaccuracies are printed enough times does that make them become truth? We think not.
Enough said. Here is the full-blown Tea Trekker definition of TEA.
1. the dried leaf or leaf buds of the Camellia sinensis bush (including the three main Camellia sinensis varietals; all ancient tea trees and subsequent generations of indigenous tea bushes growing in southwest China, Laos, Myanmar, northern Thailand, and northern Vietnam; and all Camellia sinensis cultivars.)
2. a beverage made from the dried leaf or leaf buds of the Camellia sinensis bush and which is entirely comprised of naturally occurring chemical compounds that control the color, flavor, body, and aroma of the liquor. These include: alkaloids ( caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline); polyphenols ( catechin and catechin-derived antioxidants); tannins, minerals, vitamins B1,B2, C, fluoride, and theanine.
3. categorized into six distinct classes by the method of leaf manufacture that the raw leaves undergoe: green, yellow, white, oolong, black and Pu-erh. Tea in any class may also be flavored or scented with various other plant materials such as jasmine or rose petals, or include the addition of other plant materials such as toasted rice, twig clippings from tea bushes, etc.
4. a cultural experience – phrases such as: “Let’s have tea” or “Meet me for tea” are used to refer to social gatherings based around the experience of drinking tea and sharing appropriate sweet or savory snacks. Every unique ‘teatime’ is the result of the history of each particular tea drinking country or place, and the cultural influences that have shaped and codified:
- which teas are most commonly drunk
- what teawares and tea tools are used to steep and serve the tea
- what customary snacks accompany the tea
5. a meditative practice: The Way of Life or Cha Dao. Cha Dao is a path of personal spiritual fulfillment practiced thoough orderly principles of tea steeping, tea drinking and tea appreciation. Cha Dao embraces values of harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility, and the importance of recognizing moments of beauty in everyday life. Many tea drinkers in China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan actively engage in daily practice of Cha Dao.
Tea is not:
1. made from the roots, leaves, stems, flowers, seeds or fruits of other plants
2. a ready-to-drink ( RTD) beverage
3. an instant drink powder
So, ultimately, we believe that the study and exploration of tea is fascinating and complex enough without adding to that any confusion regarding the internationally recognized definition of the term: tea. As such, tea is tea and everything else is just that: everything else.