Verdant Tea

Tea vs Tisane: Is There a Difference?

Tea vs Tisane: Is There a Difference?

Tea vs Tisane: Is There a Difference?

the line between teas + tisanes is not as clear as you think

January 28, 2022

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Have you ever wondered what makes a tea “real tea” and not a tisane?

Most people agree the difference between herbal tea and tea is simple: tea is made from Camellia sinensis, and a tisane is made from any other plant. But the truth is more complex than this. In many ways, the way we use the word “tea” in English is just as fluid as the original word 茶 (chá) we borrowed from the Chinese language.

tu (荼) versus cha (茶)

Originally, there was no distinction between tea and any other herb. Chinese used the same word 荼 () to refer to all brewed herbs. Notice how similar this is to the new word 茶 (chá) that now refers specifically to tea. 

English is similar. In casual conversation, the word “tea” can broadly refer to any brewed infusion, or it can specifically refer to the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) and its leaves and brew. Though the word “tisane” originally referred to any brewed medicinal beverage, it was only recently reintroduced in English as a way to distinguish “non-tea” from tea. 

In this article, we’ll explore the idea of tea vs tisane, and dig deeper to see how these definitions are being challenged by exciting herbs finished using tea craft.

brewing the herbal tea (tisane) Gan Zao Yebrewing the herbal tea (tisane) Gan Zao Ye
brewing the herbal tea (tisane) Gan Zao Ye

What is Tisane? Is It Tea?

The word tea has a curious double-meaning in English: when you are talking about brewed beverages, “tea” can be an infusion of Camellia sinensis or any herb, spice, flower, or fruit. When you are talking about dried leaves, “tea” usually refers to the plant only, while our “tisane” definition includes all other dried plants. 

Why do some people feel that it is important to distinguish between tea and everything else? Tradition is a big part of it. The tea plant Camellia sinensis - the stuff that makes black tea, green tea etc - has deep historical and cultural significance that warrants distinction.

What are the main differences between teas and tisanes?

wild-foraged Jujube leaves in Laoshan

  • • Tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, while a tisane can be made from any other plant or blend

  • • Tea is always caffeinated, while a tisane may or may not be caffeinated depending on the plants used

  • • Tea is finished with a complex heat-fixing process, while a tisane is dried without heat-fixing

What is Herbal Tea?

An easy herbal tea definition is any dried plant prepared for infusion that is not Camellia sinensis. This name might be confusing - many think of “herbs” as culinary plants (like rosemary and sage), but herbal tea can be any plant you steep. 

Tisane and herbal tea can be used interchangeably; tisane’s meaning is the same as herbal tea, but without the confusion of herbs vs spices.

Is tea an herb, too? Yes! But generally, craft and species separates tea from other herbs.

How Is Herbal Tea Made?

Herbal tea may be brewed just like tea, but when comparing herbal tea vs tea, there is a clear difference in how each is produced. 

Herbal tisanes are picked and simply dried - either in the sun, in circulating air, or with low heat. In contrast, tea requires heat-fixing to lock in flavor, along with deliberate shaping and other processes designed to bring out flavor or lock in freshness. 

The culture of tea grew out of the way craft was applied to its finishing and preparation. Indeed, the word “tea” in English and 茶 (chá) in Chinese are separate and distinct from tisane or 荼 () in order reflect this meticulous craft.

  • • Both tea and herbal tisanes are brewed using the same techniques

  • • A tisane is simply dried, while tea requires intensive multi-step finishing

  • • The heat-fixing step that locks in tea’s flavor truly separates it from a simple drying process.

tisane vs tea: comparing how they're madetisane vs tea: comparing how they're made
tisane vs tea: comparing how they're made