What is Rooibos Tea?
Rooibos tea is a popular herbal tea from a native South African plant.
It wasn't until 1772 when the Swedish naturalist, Carl Thunberg, noted that local South African tribes were making brews from rooibos plants.
These tribal people would climb the mountains, remove the leaves from the shrubs, and bring them down the slopes on their backs.
Rooibos must be good to go through all that.
During this time, importing black tea was too expensive for the local settlers, so rooibos became a cheaper alternative.
The small Western Cape province of South Africa is a mountainous region ideal for growing this higher-altitude plant.
Within the Cederberg area of this region, most of the world's production of rooibos is grown and cultivated. The Mediterranean climate and acidic sandy soil make it a perfect part for rooibos to thrive.
Rooibos is a resilient crop, often having to withstand the frequent droughts of the region. In short, the rooibos plant thrives on less water and at higher altitudes.
In recent years, farmers have feared that weather extremes threaten rooibos crops. Freezing temperatures during the winter were rare until recently.
According to rooibos farmer Willem Engelbrecht, "In the past, we used to plow the soil, these days, we plow less, and we keep material on the soil to act as isolation, basically to preserve the moisture."
Many farmers wonder how much longer they can adapt to the evolving weather conditions.
The best rooibos farmers rotate crops every 4 - 7 years. It takes approximately 1 - 2 years before the soil is ready for a rooibos tree.
Traditional rooibos leaves are harvested by hand and cut into 5 mm pieces.
Then the farmer adds water to the heap of leaves and bruises them to enhance the oxidation process. While fermenting (or "sweating") for 8 - 24 hours, the leaves turn red and brown, enhancing the flavor.
Rooibos is usually dried in particular yards or large ovens with specific temperatures. While large-scale rooibos cultivation uses ranges to maintain consistency and quality, sun drying is known to aid in the flavor development of the tea.
Next, the rooibos is graded by a board, which evaluates flavor and color—similar to the "cupping" process of testing coffee beans.
The three grades—super, choice, and standard—are subjected to strict testing before being sent to distributors. It won't be available for export if the batch doesn't pass specific microbiological tests.
Traditional rooibos is known as "red tea," named for the color of the leaves and the red brew it produces.
But there are other kinds of rooibos on the market. Green rooibos, which is rooibos that has not been oxidized or fermented, is an expensive and considered more nutritious version of loose-leaf tea.
To create green rooibos, farmers skip fermentation and sun-dry the leaves immediately. It prevents the red color from developing.
After the tea is processed, it is sent to distributors before being packaged and ready for sale.
Rooibos is a reasonably new phenomenon in the global tea market compared to traditional tea. A Russian immigrant named Benjamin Ginsberg was the first to package and sell rooibos tea in the early 20th century.
Today, 12,000 tons of rooibos are sold to hundreds of countries worldwide.
Rooibos has one of the most exciting and unique flavor profiles of any herbal tea. It complements other flavors, such as cinnamon, ginger, apple, and berries.
A Delicious Brew Of Rooibos
Given that rooibos was initially used as a replacement for black tea, it is no wonder the methods of brewing and drinking are similar.
The rooibos leaves are steeped in hot water and then allowed to cool before adding sugar and milk to taste. At Wild Foods, we love rooibos with a dash of honey and lemon. (It's also delicious as is.)
Rooibos Health Benefits
Because rooibos tea does not contain caffeine, it is popular amongst a new crowd of individuals who want to avoid stimulation.
Compared to green and black tea, it has few amino acids but is full of antioxidant support.
Furthermore, red rooibos has many polyphenols and flavanols, some of which are not found in green or black tea.
Many of these are responsible for the anti-inflammatory effects of red rooibos, which are often used as local remedies for arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.
Like honeybush, rooibos's antioxidants help improve insulin sensitivity and combat diabetes.
Rooibos is often used to improve glucose uptake after a meal.
Rooibos contains micronutrients and minerals, such as iron, calcium, and potassium, which are lacking in the average Western diet.
Rooibos - How To Begin
A great place to start is trying one of our delicious rooibos options:
Wild Tea #1 Coconut Chai - Spiced Chai red rooibos with cinnamon, ginger, and coconut flakes.
Delicious Tea Recipes
Tea is a more versatile ingredient than many think.
It's not just for drinking as a hot or cold beverage. Tea is an excellent base for making other drinks like smoothies, shakes, iced teas, etc.
Here are a few of our favorite tea recipes.
Honeybush Tea Cultivation
Growing honeybush tea is arduous but yields great tasting results for herbal tea lovers.
The honeybush tree grows in small parts of South Africa, particularly in the southeast and southwest regions of the country. The plant enjoys the climate by the coast, but even in its natural environment, expert farmers work tirelessly to create the best-tasting honeybush teas.
Before planting honeybush plants, a farmer must come with the highest quality seeds. One way of testing seed quality is putting roots in a jug of water to see which float. Any source that floats is determined unfit for planting and is discarded.
The next step is treating the seed; the farmer will damage the outer seed shell to encourage moisture uptake during germination.
A typical day for a South African honeybush (or rooibos) farmer during the harvesting season—January to April—looks like this: Farmers leave home at 5:00 am to turn fermentation heaps on the drying yard (where honeybush and rooibos are laid out to dry). After continuing this for most of the day, the farmer heads home around nightfall after a mere 13 hours of hard labor.
But man, does honeybush tea taste so good! Thank you, farmers!
The honeybush plant grows best in extreme climates, making cultivation and growing even more difficult. The plant enjoys extreme weather conditions and must be cultivated during heavy rainfall during the coldest part of the year.
Harvesting Honeybush Tea
The tea itself is made from the shoots of the shrub. To process honeybush, farmers chop the stems and leaves into small pieces.
Once chopped into small pieces, the wet heap is left alone to ferment.
This process usually requires an oven set to 60 - 70 degrees C.
After drying, the delicious golden red bits are ready for export.
Enjoying Delicious Honeybush Tea
Unlike green tea, which changes in flavor after long brewing, it is possible to leave honeybush brewing for many minutes without getting a bitter cup of tea.
Many South African locals brew honeybush on the stove to fill their homes with a pleasant aroma until they are ready to consume the sweet herbal beverage.
In the traditional tea style, honeybush is often consumed with milk and sugar, but doing so makes it impossible to enjoy the subtle flavor of the tea itself. We recommend trying it straight and adding a bit of honey and lemon until you find your preferred taste.
People often compare honeybush flavor to apricot jam or a dried fruit mix. We find that a dash of lemon and honey makes for a perfect cup of honeybush tea!
While hot honeybush tea is typical, it is possible to create a delicious iced honeybush tea. Brew using the hot method, then let cool and pour over ice.
Honeybush Health Benefits
Like the rooibos plant, honeybush is relatively low in amino acids compared to traditional tea, although it has plenty of antioxidants.
It is caffeine-free, which makes it popular with those that want a warm, flavorful, and rich drink at night.
As early as 1881, the Khoisan, an indigenous people of South Africa, was recorded using honeybush to treat coughs and upper respiratory problems.
Today, it is used for the same purpose, and modern science points toward a chemical in the plant called "pivotal," which is known to soothe the throat and lungs.
Beyond soothing coughs, pinitol has blood-sugar-lowering effects in laboratory studies and thus helps fight against diabetes and inflammation.
Honeybush is one of our favorite herbal teas and earned its spot.
There's a reason it's becoming one of the more popular herbal teas on the market, and I highly recommend learning why this is for you!
Hibiscus-Pomegranate Iced Tea
- 1/4 cup Wild Tea #3 Hibiscus Mint Tea
- 4 cups boiling water
- 1 cup pomegranate juice
- 4 cups cold water
- Lemon wedges, for garnish
- Steep tea in hot water for 5 minutes
- Strain tea into a large pitcher
- Stir in pomegranate juice and cold water
- Refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours
- Serve over ice with lemon wedges
Green Jasmine-Mint Iced Tea
- 1/4 cup Wild Tea #8 Green Jasmine Loose Leaf Tea
- 1/2 cup mint leaves
- 4 cups 195° water
- 4 cups cold water
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1/3 cup honey
- Steep tea for 3 minutes in hot water
- Strain into a large pitcher
- Stir in lemon juice and honey until the honey is dissolved
- Add cold water
- Refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours
- Serve over ice with some sprigs of mint for a garnish
Lemongrass-Lavender Green Tea
- 16 cups cool water
- Three sprigs mint
- 1/2 cup green tea
- One tablespoon of dried lemongrass
- One tablespoon of dried lavender
- Optional: honey, xylitol, stevia, coconut sugar
- Pour water into a large pitcher
- Add mint, tea, lemongrass, and lavender
- Brew in the fridge for 24 hours
- Sweeten to desired taste
- Strain the tea and serve with ice
Blueberry Matcha Slushy
- 2 Tablespoons Wild Matcha
- 1 or 2 Tablespoons of raw honey or the sweetener of your choice (adjust sweetness to taste)
- 1 cup organic frozen blueberries
- ½ cup organic pomegranate, apple, or orange juice
- 200g ice cubes
- Whisk Matcha powder into 1/3 cup cold water until thick
- Add 1/3 cup 175° water to the mixture and whisk
- Add sweetener of choice and stir until completely incorporated
- Set aside until cool
- Add blueberries, juice, prepared Matcha tea, and ice cubes to a blender and blend until smooth
Coconut Matcha Latte
- 1 TSP Wild Matcha
- ¼ cup 175° water
- ¼ cup warmed coconut milk
- Optional sweetener of your choice
- Sift Matcha into a bowl to prevent lumping
- Add 1 TBSP of cool water to Matcha and stir into the paste
- Add hot water and whisk until frothy
- Add warm coconut milk and whisk until frothy
- Taste and add water, coconut milk, and sweetener to desired taste
Mango Tea Smoothie
- 3/4 cup almond or coconut milk
- 1/2 cup choice tea (experiment!)
- One sliced mango
- 1/3 cup ice
- One frozen banana
- Optional berries/additions
- Blend all ingredients until smooth.
- Experiment with amounts to perfect your smoothie concoction!