Tea and Tisanes -What's the Difference and Which is Better for You?

A major reason for the popularity of tea is its health benefits.  It has been considered a healthful beverage since its legendary discovery by the Chinese Emperor Shen-Nung over 5000 years ago. Tea contains natural antioxidants called flavonoids, which are an important part of a healthy diet.  Tea also contains energizing caffeine. 

What undeniable facts do we know about the health benefits of tea and tisanes?

  • They have no calories, when drunk without milk or sugar
  • Their natural antioxidant are similar to those contained in fresh fruit and vegetables and they are considered healthful
  • As beverages, they keep us hydrated and quench thirst

What is the Difference between a Tea and Tisanes?

Tea comes from the Camellia Sinensis plant and all other ‘teas’ are actually tisanes. Often the two terms are used interchangeably as they are consumed in the same manner, but a tisane is really an infusion of herbs, flowers, spices or fruit. Typically, a tisane is caffeine free; whereas caffeine is a natural characteristic of the Camellia Sinensis plant. The five classifications of tea- black, blue, green, yellow and white- are the only ones produced from this plant.

The health benefits of tisanes, or herbal infusions, are usually descried in terms of their curative or calming effects.  The medical community generally aggress that the lack of caffeine in tisanes makes these beverages desirable alternative to coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages. They are also an appropriate beverage choice for children and those wishing to limit their caffeine consumption.

Caffeine in Tea

The longer tea brews, the less caffeine is released.  More than 50 percent of the caffeine in tea is released in the first thirty seconds of brewing.  That is why steeped tea is deemed to not only taste better but to be better for you. One theory is that longer steeping releases other elements into the tea as well.  These elements may prevent caffeine absorption resulting in a calming effect.  One component of tea, the amino acid theanine, is known to reduce tension and stress without impending alertness.

On average, an eight-ounce cup of tea contains between 10 and 60 mg of caffeine.  A comparable cup of coffee contains 80-120 mg of caffeine.

Another consideration is the temperature of the water.  Tea brewed in water that is hotter than the recommended brewing temperature will release more caffeine, while tea brewed in cooler water will release less caffeine. As well, re-steeped tea is often described as milder, probably because there is less remaining caffeine to be extracted with each re-steeping.

Tea Brewing

General Guidelines for Brewing

A general guideline for brewing tea is to bring water to a boil, let it stand for a few minutes, and then pour it over the tea, allowing the tea to steep for three to five minutes, until it attains your preferred flavour and colour. 

Blue or oolong and white tea often require longer brewing times to assure the desired flavour.   Whole-leaf teas are brewed longer than broken teas.

Tisanes brewed from dried herbs are usually steeped five to ten minutes, depending on the herb.  The most important element in preparing tea is the water.  To showcase the flavour of brewed tea, use pure water that is free of minerals that could alter or compromise the taste of the tea.

The ideal temperature for brewing black and blue teas is in the range of 203 -208 degress F {95 -98 degress C] and, for green, yellow and white teas, 158 degrees F [70 degrees C].  Water that is too hot will damage tea leaves and detract from the aroma and flavour of brewed teas. To brew tisanes, use the recommended temperature for green, yellow and white teas.

A list of the more popular tisanes and their presumed health benefits.

Chamomile tea is best known for its calming effect and is often blended with other herbs and packaged as Bedtime tea.  It is said to reduce anxiety, which helps to promote sleep. Chamomile tea is also believes to relieve menstrual cramps, aid digestion and possibly aid in the management of diabetes and hyperglycemia.

Ginseng has long been considered an aphrodisiac.  It is also though to improve the circulatory system and sharpen mental functioning. 
Some rely on it as a general cure for everything from depression to hair loss to high blood pressure.

Hibiscus teais believed to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It contains vitamins C, which may boost the immune system.

Variety of teas and tisanes some of which provide specific health benefits

Lavender tea may relieve stress and migraine headaches, as well as aid digestion.  Its calming effect may encourage sleep. Some use lavender tea as a mouthwash to eliminate bad breath.

Lemongrass tea is said to reduce stress, aid digestion in children, ease menstrual cramps, reduce fever, and have antioxidant properties.  Lemon grass is often blended with chamomile and lemon myrtle, which both act as natural enhancers.

Lemon myrtle is thought to have an anti-inflammatory effect, thus easing arthritis symptoms.  It also has a calming, stress reducing effect.

Mint tea is believed to relive irritable bowel syndrome, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and infant colic.  Its mint flavour may mask bad breath.  The intense refreshing taste of mint tea ha a psychological benefit that cannot be debated.

Rooibos and honeybush are said to relieve stomach ulcers, nausea, constipation, heartburn, cramps, colic and insomnia.  These teas are believed to be rich in anti-oxidants. When applied directly to the skin, they may believe itching, sunburn, and diaper rash.  Their mineral content, which includes potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc can contribute to a healthful diet and overall good health

Rosehip tea is high in vitamin C and also contains vitamins, A, D, and E.  Rosehip is often blended with hibiscus in teas.  Rosehip tea is used to prevent bladder infections and relieve headaches and dizziness.  It is said to be rich in iron and help restore beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract after a round of antibiotics.

Yerba mate is becoming popular worldwide because of its stimulating effect, which some perceive as sharpened mental clarity.  Though experts still debate the caffeine content of yerba mate, they generally agree that it does not produce the less desirable effects of caffeine, such as jitteriness, often experienced after drinking highly caffeinated beverages like coffee or soft drinks. 

In today’s marketplace there is no limit to the number of teas or tisanes available.  Blends have become very popular and a experienced blender will consider the following in making their blends:

  • the taste of each of the herbs that will be used, and
  • their curative properties

Some blends will also include dried or dehydrated fruit to add yet another dimension to the taste profile of the blend.  

The real challenge, then, is choosing from the many varieties available.  Undeniably, it requires trying different blends to find the notes, aromas and tea properties that align with your personal taste and goals.   In every home of an avid tea drinker, you will find different type of teas and/or tisanes that are enjoyed at different times of the day.  

Now that you have an overview of teas and tisanes, it is time to go out and try different varieties to determine the one that is most soothing and appealing to you.  Don’t limit yourself to one because there is just so much to discover in the world of teas.



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