What is Tea?

In the world that we live in there seems to be a lot of confusion over what exactly tea is.  You constantly hear terms thrown around such as: real tea, herbal, tisane, infusion, etc.  the most common practice is to refer to anything that you add hot water to as tea.  This isn't all that accurate and can be misleading, let's take an in depth look at this.

cupoftea

Merriam-Webster defines tea as:

The leaves, leaf buds, and internodes of the tea plant (Camellia Sinensis of the family Theaceae, the tea family) prepared and cured for the market, classed according to method of manufacture into one set of types (as green tea, black tea, or oolong), and graded according to leaf size into another (as orange pekoe, pekoe, or souchong).

 Camellia Sinensis Leaf

Camellia Sinensis Leaf

From that definition, one would expect that something called tea would be made from part of the Camellia Sinensis plant, but we all know this isn't the case in today's world.  I'm not really sure how herbs ended up getting mixed up with the term "tea."  However, I must admit that it is very convenient to just simply refer to anything that you add hot water to as "tea" despite the confusion that it brings with it; I'm certainly guilty of doing this and I'm sure that most people reading this have done the same thing.  Take a minute, close your eyes, and imagine the pandemonium that would erupt if people lumped beer in with wine and just called it all wine.  That would create mass amounts of confusion even though they are both alcohols and they both have the same basic effect on your body.  Fact of the matter is that beer and wine are very different from each other, just like drinks that are made from the Camellia Sinensis plant and drinks that are made from herbs that you can grow in your yard.  

I don't have the slightest idea when herbs started getting lumped in with your normal teas, that might be a great topic for another blog post.  For now I think that it's been established that any "tea" that isn't made from the Camellia Sinensis plant really shouldn't be called tea.  The two most popular words that have started to take hold are "tisane" and "infusion" both of which are quite appropriate.  I prefer the term infusion, mostly because it reminds me of a nuclear reactor and maybe a Mint Infusion will give you super powers!  Hopefully as tea starts to gain more popularity the world of tea will start to become more standardized so there's less confusion over what exactly a certain hot beverage should be called and more importantly, so there isn't any confusion over what you are buying!

Fun Fact:  Did you know the the word Chai is a Hindi word that literally means Tea?  If you say, "Chai Tea" you're actually saying "Tea Tea."  There's actually a lot of history behind where those words come from, but that's a subject for a different day.

 Matcha

Matcha

Posted on April 26, 2016 and filed under Tea.