Tea and tisanes: what’s in a name?

In the Aligare world, people prepare tea. Warm, steeped beverages are very popular. They’re comforting, and that means that offering a visitor some tea is perceived as a kind gesture.

Masala Chai 039


From the author’s end, though? I had a lot of semantic trouble with this simple custom. You see, in our world, “tea” refers to the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. We colloquially call it “tea” when we’re drinking a cup of hot steeped plants, but that’s not always accurate. Caffeine-free “herbal tea” isn’t tea at all. If you’re drinking chamomile or peppermint or any blend that doesn’t contain tea, it’s called a tisane. (As a waitress, I struggle to bite my tongue when people ask for “normal tea” as opposed to “herbal tea”.)


But as much as I wanted to use accurate terminology in my Stories of Aligare, few people know the difference between tea and tisanes. If I had my non-human folk talking about drinking some tisane, I’m sure the average reader would be annoyed that I didn’t explain what this invented fictional drink is. And if I explained the difference between tea and tisanes, it would seem like an unnecessarily big deal. The difference between tea and tisane is not a plot point in Remedy or any other story. When I’m writing my human-free world and introducing new ideas to the reader, I need to be careful to pick my battles — and hot beverage terminology isn’t important enough to fight over.


So when aemets, korvi and ferrin make a hot drink out of steeped plant matter, it’s called “tea”. The tea plant does exist in their world, but it’s called camellia. And, actually, camellia isn’t primarily used for drinks.


“I’ve got some camellia,” [Rose] said.

It was Father’s, a cache of tea-plant meant to dye his clothes a rare sepia shade. He had thanked the friend who gifted it – then he told Rose, in murmured confidence, that camellia was wasted as dye when it made such a fine energizing tonic.

Remedy, a story of Aligare, Chapter 8


The point I’m getting at is that Aligare folk drink tea, but it’s not the cup of milk, sugar and caffeine many humans think of as tea. And the Aligare world doesn’t have coffee trees. So, um. If humans were welcomed into an Aligare home, we would be welcomed warmly but we might find it hard to get up in the morning.

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