Learn all about rooibos tea, also know as "Red 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 local South African tribes making brews from local rooibos plants.
These tribal people would climb the mountains, remove the leaves from the shrugs, 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 and so rooibos became a cheaper alternative.
The small Western Cape province of South Africa is a mountainous region that is 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 region 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 higher altitudes.
In recent years, farmers have feared that weather extremes are threatening the rooibos crops. Freezing temperatures during the winter were rare until recently.
According to rooibos farmer, Willem Engelbrecht, “In the past we used to plough the soil, these days we plough 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 then 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 a red and brown color, which is said to enhance the flavor.
Rooibos is usually dried in special yards or in large ovens with specific temperatures. While large scale rooibos cultivation uses ovens 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 both 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. In fact, if the batch doesn't pass certain microbiological tests, they won't be available for export.
Traditional rooibos is know as "red tea," named for the color of the leaves and the red brew it produces.
But that's not the only kind of rooibos on 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 the fermentation process and sun-dry the leaves immediately. This prevents the red color from developing.
After the tea is processed, it is sent to distributors before being packaged and ready for sale.
Compared to traditional tea, rooibos is a fairly new phenomenon in the global tea market. 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 across the world.
Rooibos as one of the most interesting and unique flavor profiles out of any herbal tea. It compliments well with 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.
Similar to honeybush, the antioxidants in rooibos are helpful for improving insulin sensitivity and combatting 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 current have 4 rooibos options:
Wild Tea #1 Coconut Chai - Spiced Chai red rooibos with cinnamon, ginger and coconut flakes
Wild Tea #5 Thai G - A green rooibos blend with a Asian twist consisting of ginger, lemongrass and lime.
Wild Tea #14 Brier Green Rooibos - Our premium green rooibos from South Africa
Wild Tea #15 Redbush Rooibos - Our premium red rooibos from South Africa