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AN EXTENDED FAMILY

In many parts of the world, beverages similar to tea, such as herbal, fruit or medicinal teas are called "infusions". The word "tea" is principally used only for beverages made from the tea bush. Strictly speaking, the word "tea" should be reserved for drinks made using leaves from the tea bush. But in many countries the definition is extended to include other beverages, such as fruit and herbal infusions.

That's because the process of making these drinks is similar: they are derived from plants and brewed using hot water. Ironically, had coffee not quickly established an identity as a drink in its own right, it's not inconceivable that it, too, could have taken on the generic name of "tea".

CLASSIC INFUSIONS

Some herbal infusions are old friends, their names as well-known to us as the world's greatest writers and musicians, and their flavour a reassuring touchstone of familiarity. Consider, for example, chamomile, peppermint, fennel, verbena, lemon balm, blackberry and stinging nettle. Even if you haven't tried all of these flavours, you'll know instantly what they would taste like. Then there are the rising stars of the fruit and herbal infusion world: brews like Moroccan Nana mint, a refreshing spearmint infusion, and lemon-grass tea. By far the most popular in recent years, though, are:

ROOIBOS, also known as redbush. This comes from the Cederberg Mountains in South Africa, and the bush resembles the English Broom, to which it is related. Rooibos to is made from the needle-shaped leaves and new shoots of the redbush, which are picked and then crushed to kick off the oxidation process. This gives the infusion its distinctive red-brown colour and its slightly smoky flavour. Rooibos is the favoured infusion among South Africans in the Cape of Good Hope region of the country, who value it as a health drink. It is caffeine free and contains scarcely any tannin. But it does have many healthy trace elements, including iron, calcium and vitamin C.

HONEYBUSH also comes from South Africa. Like Rooibos, Honeybush grows in the Cape region and was until recently only found wild. That made harvesting it an arduous task, but the draw of its honey-scented plants was too much to resist Honeybush is now cultivated, making supplies easier to find. It contains no caffeine and is rich in minerals and trace elements.

LAPACHO comes from South America. Lapacho trees grow up to 35 metres tall in Jungles and are known by the indigenous dwellers as the "tree of life". The infusion is made out of the lapacho tree's inner bark, which contains many valuable minerals including fluoride, iodine, potassium and magnesium.

MATE is another South American infusion that is made from the dried leaves of the evergreen mate bush, which is related to holly and can grow as high as 14 metres. South Americans are not alone in their appreciation of stimulating effect Mate can have on its drinker Mate drinkers around the world now extol its energising virtues.