Exploring The “Other” Teas

As we mentioned in an earlier posting, the world of tea contains far more than just the familiar Camellia senensis. There are also thousands of intriguing and delicious tisanes, or herbal teas, which only require hot water and plant material. Some tisanes are part of the cultural fabric of their native countries, some perform medical wonders, and others might land you in hot water – with the law!

Yerba Mate– An herbal tea native to South America. It is customary for friends in Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, or Argentina to matear, or meet to drink Yerba Maté.  At these cultural events, the tisane is steeped and served in a carved out gourd known as a maté and friends take turns sipping it through the bombilla, a special metal straw. The matear culminates with the friends reaching mateado, a state of clarity and high spirits. Yerba Maté contains lots of caffeine and theobromine (the main stimulant found in chocolate), and, unlike normal tea, can be steeped several times without losing strength.
Yerba Maté Latte


A good beverage to make with an espresso machine. Place yerba into the filter basket and put the desired amount of vanilla into the bottom of your cup (hazelnut, almond, and other flavors can be substituted, or you can opt for no flavoring at all). Steam the milk. While it steams pull shots of yerba maté (in the same manner that you would pull espresso) into the cup. Finish by adding steamed milk. Makes one 16 oz cup.

Yerba mate is known for its re-steepability, and if you desire a stronger flavor or more caffeine/theobromine, you can opt to pull several shots from the same batch (keep in mind that the more shots you pull, the less milk you will need). You can also use it to make a second latte.

Yerba Maté can also be iced: after pulling the shots, add 8-10 oz of cold milk and fill with ice.

Another version of this beverage (for those without espresso machines) is made by steeping yerba in 6-8 oz hot water for 5-7 minutes, adding vanilla, and then 8-10 oz warm milk.

Rooibos (Red Tea)- Known as red tea, or “bush tea” in its native South Africa, “Rooibos” is not at all related to Camellia sinensis. It is part of the legume family (the same family that includes peanuts). However, it is processed in a manner similar to normal tea; the red color comes from the same reaction that turns tea black. Rooibos is great late-night option because it contains no caffeine. It is also popular for its unique flavor, health benefits and high concentration of antioxidants. (Some believe that the antioxidants in red tea are more effective than those found in green tea). Red tea is also believed to reduce anxiety, and has even been used by mothers to calm crying babies.
Red Tea Lemonade

Steep Rooibos in water for 7-10 minutes (keep in mind that the amount of red tea is way more than would normally used for 10 oz of water. Because it will eventually be diluted with lemonade and ice, those 10 oz should be extra strong. This is a good principle to remember when diluting or icing tea of any sort). Remove tea, add lemonade and sweeten to taste with sugar. Pour into 36 oz pitcher and fill with ice. Makes three 12 oz servings.

Greek Mountain Tea– An herbal tea native to the Balkan mountain range. Also known as ironwort or shepherd’s tea, Greek mountain tea is appropriately named, as it can only grow above 3,200 feet. It comes from the Sideritis syriaca plant and is a bona fide medical wonder. The Greek medical pioneer Hippocrates first noted the benefits of drinking it around 400 BC, and modern day studies have shown that the herbal tea contains over 60 components with documented health benefits. It tastes pretty good, too. Visitors to Greece often rave about the exotic “tea from the mountains,” which is commonly mixed with traditional Mediterranean spices and served with lemon and honey.

Taboo Teas– Beverages that are consumed in certain places around the world, but might go against U.S. social norms.

Mate de Coca is a South American tea made from the leaves of the Coca plant. It contains no caffeine, but it does provide energy from another source – the cocaine alkaloid. But don’t let that fool you. It takes about 30 pounds of coca leaf to make one ounce of the illegal drug, and the amount of stimulant in this tea (about .05%) doesn’t even come close to the amount in the cocaine powder (about 99%). People of the Andes use it to combat altitude sickness, not to get intoxicated, and it is legal in the U.S.

Bhang is an Indian tea made from marijuana and used for spiritual reasons. During the holiday of Holi, Hindus consume this beverage in large quantities in tribute to the Lord Shiva. Consumption of bhang has been a part of Indian culture for at least 3,000 years, and Sadhus (ascetics who live on the fringe of society) still use it to enhance meditation and achieve a higher level of spirituality. The Sufi Islamic sect has also used Bhang for hundreds of years. Haydar, the founder of the Persion Sufis, was so fond of bhang that it is also know by the slang term “the wine of Haydar.”

Poppy tea is made from the Opium plant and has been used as long as the plant has been cultivated. Unlike maté de coca, which doesn’t contain enough of the active ingredient to pose a serious risk, or bhang, which has never caused an overdose, poppy tea can be life-threateningly dangerous. It carries the addiction risks associated with any other opiate, and its use has led to overdose and death.