I like a nice cup of tea – but only one a day given that too much caffeine makes me very jittery – and so I was very pleased when Caiti gave me a selection of fancy teas for Christmas. Mysterious parcels addressed to Caiti had been arriving regularly during December and I was dutifully taking them up to her room to wait for her return, only shaking them a bit to try and determine the contents! All was revealed on Christmas Day when we all had smashing pressies from her.

Back to my teas. I am now the owner of a lovely set of holiday teas with exotic flavours such as candy apple, gingerbread, pumpkin spice, chestnut and candy cane. I also have a sachet of black tea and herbal tea.

Sorry, not herbal tea – tisane. We should use the proper term for such drinks, the French one. My teas came with a sumptuous full-colour book about tea which tells me that so-called teas made from hot water and herbs, dried flowers, fruit and plants other than actual tea leaves are not teas at all. That name is official reserved for drinks based on camellis sinensis. I’d heard of black and green tea, but you can also get white and oolong. That was news to me. The differences in the teas mainly relates to the amount of oxygen the tea leaves are allowed to absorb while they’re being processed; the more oxygen, the darker the tea. Oolong is completely unprocessed tea.

Tea is the second most popular drink in the world, after water, and is starting to gain popularity in the United States. The Boston Tea Party put a bit of a dampener on American tea drinking habits and so the nation turned to coffee for a long while, but is now starting to turn back. The interesting tea flavours that you can get from companies like Adagio, which is where my goodies came from, will surely tempt lots of drinkers.

Tisanes are big business in France. If you’ve been in the country, you’ll have doubtless noticed the many different types in the supermarkets, taking up a good half aisle. Tisanes have been around almost as long as history itself and have mildly medicinal propeties. This is probably what makes them so appealing to my adopted nation of hypochondriacs! Although the name sounds French, it actually comes from the Greek. La Tisanière and Thé Élephant are the biggest tisane manufacturers but every supermarket has its own brand versions and there are lots of small artisan companies producing them too. You can get some wonderful flavours. My current favourite is La Tisanière’s orange with a hint of spice bread. Very warming and festive.

My first encounter with a tisane was when I was an au pair for a Belgian family. I was under the weather so my employer made me a camomile tisane. It tasted of wet hay and put me off tisanes for another twenty years. However, when we moved here in 2006 I thought I’d give them another shot and it’s been a much better experience. So be brave and give them a try too. I think you’ll be impressed. And most certainly check out Adagio’s teas as well.