Teas vs. Tisanes: What's the Difference?

We refer often refer to hot, steeped beverages of all kinds as tea, but that is technically incorrect. 

Teas vs. Tisanes

Tea comes from the leaves of camellia sinensis, a shrub native to regions of Asia. All teas from black, green or oolong are derived from the camellia sinensis plant. Tisanes (pronounced ti-zahn) are infusions that don't contain leaves of the Camellia Sinensis. Instead they are infusions made from the leaves, roots, berries, and spices of other plants.

Different Types of Tisanes

There are many various types of Tisanes. They are often categorized by the plant part of origin, such as the leaf, flower, bark, root, fruit or  seed. Here are some examples of the various types of tisanes:

  • Leaf tisanes: peppermint and lemongrass
  • Flower tisanes: rosehips, camomile, hibiscus and lavender
  • Bark tisanes: cinnamon and black cherry
  • Root tisanes: ginger and licorice
  • Fruit/berry tisane: raspberry, blueberry, peach and apple
  • Seed/spice tisanes: cardamom and fennel

Tisanes are caffeine-free and can be served hot or cold. Herbal teas have a long history, dating back to ancient China and Egypt, where tisanes were drunk for both enjoyment and medicinal purposes.

How to Brew a Tisane

Most tisanes should be prepared as an infusion or a decoction. Infusions is when we pour boiling water over plant matter to steep herbs or leaf parts. Decoction is the method of placing the plant material in boiling water, which releases more essential oils and flavor.

Decoctions are often used for plant matter with tough surfaces or smaller surface areas. For this reason, leaf, flower, and seed tisanes are generally infused, whereas bark, root, and berry tisanes are generally prepared as decoctions.

NOTE: Never use an aluminum pot to prepare a tisane. Aluminum is a reactive metal, so it can react with the herb and, depending on the plant type, it may produce a very toxic beverage.

Since tisanes include an endless list of plant varietals, brewing times for tisanes vary widely. They may be as short as two minutes or as long as 15 minutes. Luckily, most vendors will supply you with instructions for each type they offer.

If your tisane comes with brewing instructions, use them and then adjust the quantities/time to your tastes. If not, ask your supplier or search online for instructions for that particular tisane.

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