The Language of Tea
Q: What’s the difference between a tea, tisane, chai, and tii? Is there a difference? Why are there so many names?
A: Yes, technically there is a difference but depending on the tea culture in the part of the world you are in, it can get a little confusing. Here’s a short-ish explanation that you can use to impress people at the next holiday party...
Tea: “Tea” technically refers to ONE specific variety of evergreen shrub called Camellia Sinensis. All black, white, green, and oolong teas come from this one magical plant. Yes...it’s true. Camellia Sinensis alone has blessed the world so many varieties of tea. Much in the same way that all wine come from grapes (albeit, different varietals).
How the tea leaves are processed determines the type of tea. Factors such as when the leaves are picked (newer buds vs. older and larger leaves), soil composition, the amount of oxidation that is allowed, whether its cut, rolled, twisted, how it was dried, and so much more…create the different varieties.
Black teas are leaves that have been allowed to oxidize the longest. Green teas are leaves that have been steamed or baked soon after plucking to stop the oxidation process so it retains more of its greenish color. Some teas are even allowed to age and ferment much like wine.
Tisane: But what about things like chamomile, jasmine, rooibos, or peppermint? Well, those are formally known as tisanes. Tisanes are simply any herbal or spice infusion. Peppermint leaves steeped in hot water is not a tea (because tea is Camellia Sinensis) but a tisane. Culturally, we have grown somewhat lazy in making the distinction and use the terms interchangeably. Therefore, everything we pour hot water over, has now become known as ‘tea’.
To further clarify, if you are drinking a flavored tea, such as jasmine green tea, it’s green tea (Camellia Sinensis) flavored or blended with jasmine florals.
Chai: Literally just means “tea” in South Asian and Eastern African cultures. So saying “Chai Tea Latte” translates to “Tea Tea Latte”....which is silly and funny now that you know what it means. But, we associate it to mean a specific style or preparation of tea from those regions. Often a black tea that has been blended with spices (ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, etc.), and brewed with steamed milk and honey (or sugar). Good stuff.
Tii: It’s more than just a simple play on the word ‘tea’ in the Orisa Tii brand. It’s the actual spelling of the word ‘tea’ in the West African Yoruba language. Nothing too surprising there.
So, there you have it. You are now equipped with with a few cool conversation starters. Go forth, impress, and make me proud.