Sometimes, if I ask for hot tea at a restaurant, a mug of lukewarm water and a colorful assortment of little square packages are set in front of me. I inhale and politely thumb through the Herbal Peppermint, Berry Berry (no caffeine), and Chamomile packets, and finally inquire, "Do you have any Black tea?" Off the server trots, returning with an off brand lifeless tea bag. The temptation to expound on real tea, is overwhelming. Keeping my hand on my mouth & shoving the tea information file to the back of my mind, allows me to remain a decent, sweet, smiling human being.
Anything that can be infused is referred to as "tea". Herbal concoctions, often consumed for medicinal purposes, abound. Common herbal "teas" include Chamomile, Hibiscus, Lemon Grass and various Mints ( Spearmint, Peppermint). Fruit infusions like Raspberry, Cranberry, or Apple are popular "teas". However, unless one of these infusions contains some form of the Camelllia sinensis plant, it's not really tea!
Camellia sinensis , an evergreen bush, is a single species, of many varieties. The tea plant can grow easily in most conditions, but does not always produce "good" tea. ( My own little tea plant is "failing to succeed" in this Redding, California heat..see photo). Tea, like wine, is influenced by the soil, rainfall, elevation and a myriad of other factors which contribute to its characteristics. Countries that have perfected specialty teas include India, China, Japan, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, and some South American countries. In the United States, there is one tea garden that produces and sells tea. The Charleston Tea Garden, on Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina, owned by Bigelow, still harvests and manufactures tea. All real tea, whether it is white, green, black or oolong, is produced from this Camellia sinensis plant.
I think when I'm eating out, my drink order will be, "Cameillia sinenis, please". Then, I'm sure there will be no confusion. Just in case though, I do have my own real tea, in a zip-lock baggie in my purse ! Some people carry a flask with their favorite alcohol, I carry a plastic baggie with my favorite tea!
May all your infusions be tea-lightful !