Herbal drinks aren’t tea, says the actor. So what should we call them? And why do people bother drinking them anyway?
When is tea not tea? That is, inarguably, a question. According to the Sherlock actor and exceptionally unlikely sex symbol Benedict Cumberbatch, it’s when it comes in a fey little sachet and smells of newly mown lawn. “Shall I really vent now? I’m sick of camomile tea being called tea,” said Cumberbatch – sounding a little like he had drunk too much coffee – on Absolute Radio’s breakfast show, before delineating at some length the scientific reasons why camomile, and other herbal drinks, shouldn’t be called tea.
His argument boiled down to the proposition that “tea is a drink made from the tea plant”, so drinks made from other plants are not tea, which is fair and makes sense, as long as you agree that the meaning of a word can never change or adapt and must remain the same for all eternity. Does Cumberbatch keep Hollywood parties rapt as he explains why “decimate” can only be used to mean “reduce by 10%” and “bachelor” actually means a young knight?
But if we are to take him at his word, we need an alternative. The most accurate would be “herbal infusion”, which is a bit of a mouthful. According to tea experts, the industry jargon to describe camomile and its kind is “tisane”, which is just “herbal infusion” in French. But since nobody uses the word “tisane”, aside from uptight experts and, very possibly, newly moustachioed actors with films to promote, it seems churlish to complain about the word “tea” being repurposed for a drink that you do make, after all, in quite a similar way to tea.
Had Cumberbatch’s rant gone beyond semantics, a more accurate and relatable case against a cup of camomile tea would be the foul aroma and general sense of men’s urinals that goes with it. While camomile “tisane” is supposedly a natural remedy for inflammation, anxiety and insomnia, any potential benefits are hugely outweighed by the whole “Am I actually drinking my own wee?” vibe. In fact, there are websites that will tell you that urine, too, is a natural remedy for inflammation, anxiety and insomnia – you could just skip the middleman, if you were so inclined. Cumberbatch would hopefully approve, so long as you don’t call it “tea”.