Red Tea (Rooibos)

Rooibos tea (pronounced “Roy-boss) is made from the leaves of the Aspalathus Linearis (or “red bush”) plant, which grows only in the small Cederberg region of South Africa. The Aspalathus plant belongs to the Papilionace family, named after their  picturesque “butterfly” flowers. Because it does not derive from the Camellia sinensis plant (like black, white, green or oolong teas), rooibos tea is considered more of a herbal drink or tisane than a “true” tea.

Rooibos tea is often called “red tea” or “red bush” tea because of the bright red coloring the leaves take on during the oxidation and fermentation processes. A properly brewed cup of rooibos tea will be a rich red color and have a sweet, nutty flavor. While the tea is traditionally served with milk and sugar in its native South Africa, most drinkers outside of the region prefer the tea on its own or with a bit of honey.

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How did red Tea Originate?

Rooibos tea’s history is rooted in the Cederberg region of beautiful South Africa. Khoisans, the indigenous Bushmen of the region, harvested the leaves from the Aspalathus Linearis plant for centuries. The leaves were used as herbal remedies for many ailments, and loved for their delicious taste.

Rooibos tea nearly ended with the dwindling of the Khoisan tribes, but thankfully a botanist named Carl Humberg rediscovered the leaves in 1772 and revived a more widespread interest in the tea drink. Carl noted, “the countries people made tea” from a plant related to rooibos or redbush. Early Dutch settlers at the Cape had started to drink Rooibos as an alternative to the very expensive black tea from Europe.

In 1904, a Russian immigrant to South Africa, Benjamin Ginsberg, with ties to tea manufacturing,  recognised the potential of this unique “mountain tea” and started trading with Rooibos, becoming the first exporter of Rooibos.

In 1930 District surgeon and botanist Dr Pieter Le Fras Nortier began conducting experiments with the cultivation of the rooibos plant, seeing the vast commercial potential the tea held for the region. The first plants were cultivated in Clanwilliam on his farm Eastside and on the farm Klein Kliphuis,

The tiny seeds were difficult to come by. An aged Khoi women found an unusual seed source. Having chanced upon ants dragging seed, she followed them back to their nest  and, on breaking it open, found a granary. Dr Nortier’s research was ultimately successful and he subsequently showed all the local farmers how to germinate their own seeds.

Thanks to his research, Rooibos, originally just an indigenous drink, become an iconic national beverage and then a globalised commodity.

Red Tea Flavors

Some of the words used to describe the flavor of red rooibos are: earthy, slightly sweet, woody, creamy, smoky, vanilla, floral, geranium, honey, herbal, caramel and nutty.

While green rooibos is malty and slightly grassy

Rooibos is often blended with vanilla, honeybush, chamomile, fennel, dried fruit, spices and so on to create more flavours.

Red Tea Processing

Rooibos crop is harvested by hand once a year during the summer (january to March) when the bushy plants branches are cut using sickles and neatly bound into bundles and transported to the farms tea court.

Upon arrival the bundles are sorted and carefully fed into a cutting machine which maintains a uniform cutting length. (from 1 mm to 5 mm). The wet freshly cut and bruised rooibos is then place in a long low heap across the tea court to “sweat”, a carefully managed process of enzymatic oxidation which causes the rooibos to change from green to the characteristic red.amber color and the wonderful flavor and sweet distinctive aroma of top quality rooibos is unleashed.

Next is drying and storage. The Oxidised rooibos is spread out across the courtyard to dry 100% naturally in the hot african sun. Until this point only 24 hours have passed.

After this the tea is sifted to separate dust and non-uniform cuttings before it is fed into machines for sterilization, pasteurization and drying. Ensuring that the final product is hygienic

There are two types of Rooibos tisanes:

Red rooibos; where the cuttings are moistened, rolled and set out to oxidize.

Green rooibos; which is simply dried and packaged.

Caffeine

Rooibos is caffeine free making it an excellent afternoon and evening tea.

Brewing / Preparing Rooibos Tea

Rooibos is a very forgiving tea to brew. It can be brewed briefly for a lighter tea ot longer for a darker tea with more body. There are no tannins that can give it a bitter taste if brewed too long. Rooibos also make a great iced tea and lends itself well to being cooled and mixed with fruit juice on ration of 1:1.

  • Use fresh, pure, cold filtered water. Spring water is best.
  • If your rooibos came with specific recommendations for brewing, use those. But using about 2 grams of loose leaf herb per 230ml cup of water is a safe bet.
  • Rooibos is generally steeped in just boiled water
  • Cover your rooibos while it’s infusing to keep all the heat in the steeping vessel.
  • Taste the brewed rooibos after the recommended infusion time , approximately 4 – 5 minutes and then decide if you’d like it to go a little longer. Unlike a traditional black or green tea, rooibos won’t get more astringent and bitter the longer it’s infused in hot water; it will just get stronger and more flavorful.
  • Rooibos is nice on its own, however rooibos is often enjoyed with milk or cream and a little sweetener. Or simply add some honey and fresh lemon as an alternative.

Health benefits

Some of the health benefits associated with rooibos tea are:

  • Cancer prevention
  • Reduced headaches, insomnia and irritability
  • Increased immune function
  • Stronger teeth and bones

Sources

Teatulia https://www.teatulia.com/tea-varieties/what-is-rooibos.htm

Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rooibos#Production_and_processing