Best of all, Rooibos red tea naturally contains protective antioxidants, as well as calcium, zinc and other nutrients. Discover for yourself how each of our soothing Rooibos red tea blends resonates with the wonders of Africa!
Rooibos teas are a naturally sweet and sometimes nutty herbal tea made from the South African Red Bush often referred to as Red Tea or African Red Tea. The rooibos tea processing method involves harvesting the red bush leaves, followed by grinding and bruising of the leaves. Then the rooibos is left to ferment and dried to yield a reddish brown needle-like tea. Green rooibos tea does not have a fermentation step and thus has a lighter taste than red rooibos teas. Both varieties of rooibos tea are caffeine free.
The generic name comes from the plant Calicotome villosa, aspalathos in Greek. This plant has very similar growth and flowers to the Rooibos plant. The specific name linearis comes from the plant’s linear growing structure and needle-like leaves.
Rooibos is usually grown in a small area in the region of the Western Cape province of South Africa. Generally, the leaves are oxidized, a process often referred to as fermentation in accordance with tea processing terminology. This process produces the distinctive reddish-brown color of rooibos and enhances the flavor. Unoxidized “green” rooibos is also produced, but the more demanding production process for green rooibos (similar to the method by which green tea is produced) makes it more expensive than traditional rooibos. It carries a malty and slightly grassy flavour somewhat different from its red counterpart.
In South Africa, it is common to prepare rooibos tea in the same manner as black tea and add milk and sugar to taste. Other methods include a slice of lemon and using honey instead of sugar to sweeten.
Several coffee shops in South Africa have recently begun to sell “red espresso”, which is concentrated rooibos served and presented in the style of ordinary espresso. This has given rise to rooibos-based variations of coffee drinks such as red lattes and red cappuccinos. Iced tea made from rooibos has recently been introduced in South Africa, Australia, and the United States. A variant of a London Fog, known as a Cape Town Fog, can also be made using Rooibos steeped in steamed milk with vanilla syrup.
History of Rooibos Tea
In 1772, Swedish botanist Carl Thunberg found the people of the Cape of South Africa were making tea from local plants, specifically, the rooibos plant. By the 1900s, settlers of the Cape refined the curing process to make African red tea, employing similar methodologies of green tea processing. Soon after cultivation of rooibos red bush tea spread throughout South America and more recently, has broken into the American tea market for its unique taste and variety of flavors.
Rooibos Tea Preparation
Making rooibos tea is very similar to preparing any other herbal tea. 1.5 tsp of rooibos tea should be added for every 8 oz cup of boiling water. The rooibos tea should steep for 5-6 minutes. If left to brew longer, the rooibos tea should not become very bitter, as this type of tea has steeped for days in some South African households. Many rooibos teas also taste great as an iced tea. To make rooibos iced tea, just double the amount of tea used, steep at the same temperature and for the same length of time, then pour the tea directly into a glass full of ice.
Health Benefits Of Rooibos Tea
Caffeine free – The rooibos plant grows naturally without any caffeine. This is important, as it means it does not need to undergo a chemical process to remove the caffeine. It also means that anyone can drink it, including those who do not want to drink caffeine such as children & pregnant women. The other key benefit of no caffeine is that rooibos tea can be drunk in unrestricted amounts, in fact, the average South African will consume 5-6 cups per day.
Contains powerful antioxidants – Rooibos tea contains a huge array of antioxidants, which help to protect the body in a number of ways. Two polyphenol antioxidants called aspalathin and nothofagin are found in high concentrations in rooibos tea. These antioxidants protect the body by fighting free radicals. These are unstable cells, which attack healthy cells in order to stabilise themselves. The polyphenols also have anti-inflammatory properties and can safeguard against heart disease.
Prevents against some cancers – Some studies have demonstrated a link between consumption of rooibos tea and a reduction of cancer-causing chemicals. This is because of the high level of dominant antioxidants, some of which have anti-mutagenic properties. This means that they defend cells & DNA against damage and inhibit them from developing into cancer.
High mineral content – One of the key health benefits of rooibos tea is that it contains several minerals that are vital to health. These include: magnesium – essential for the nervous system, calcium & manganese – essential for strong teeth and bones, zinc – important for metabolism and iron – critical for helping blood & muscles distribute oxygen.
Improves circulation – One of the many potent antioxidants in rooibos tea is called Chysoeriol. It can improve circulation by preventing the activity of the enzyme that triggers cardiovascular disease. Drinking rooibos tea also lowers blood pressure and cholesterol.
Relieves stomach complaints – As rooibos tea contains high levels of flavonoids, especially one called quercetin, it has the ability to relieve numerous abdominal ailments such as cramps, diahorrea and indigestion. This is because the flavonoids help to reduce spasm, inflammation and allergies. It has also been widely stated that the health benefits of rooibos tea extend to alleviating colic in babies. As it is totally caffeine free, it is perfectly safe for them to drink rooibos tea.
Aids absorption of iron – Unlike most black teas, which prevent the body from absorbing iron effectively because of the tannins they contain, rooibos tea supports the body in absorbing iron. This is because rooibos tea contains less than half the tannins of black tea.
Can relieve skin conditions – A more recent discovery of the benefits of rooibos tea is that it can help you to look more beautiful! Rooibos tea contains phenyl pyretic acid, which can help to improve acne, psoriasis and eczema. You can apply a freshly brewed and cooled tea bag to the affected areas and it will soothe and heal any inflammation.
Can protect against Parkinsons/Alzheimers disease – drinking rooibos tea regularly can protect against a process known as lipid peridoxation. This is where free radicals damage brain cells and nerve tissue. If this is prolonged, it can lead eventually to progressive and deteriorating brain disease, such as Alzheimers. Laboratory tests on rats showed little difference in brain function from a group of older rats given rooibos tea to the brains of newborn rats.
Encourages restful sleep – One of the many health benefits of rooibos tea is that it can be drunk as often as you wish and at any time of day. Many people choose to drink it before bedtime as it can help with insomnia. Due to its high mineral content and lack of caffeine, it helps people to feel calm and relaxed.
US trademark controversy
In 1994, Burke International registered the name “Rooibos” with the US Patent and Trademark Office, thus establishing a monopoly on the name in the United States at a time when it was virtually unknown there. When the plant later entered more widespread use, Burke demanded that companies either pay fees for use of the name, or cease its use. In 2005, the American Herbal Products Association and a number of import companies succeeded in defeating the trademark through petitions and lawsuits; after losing one of the cases, Burke surrendered the name to the public domain.
Rooibos grades are largely related to the percentage “needle” or leaf to stem content in the mix. A higher leaf content will result in a darker liquor, richer flavour and less “dusty” aftertaste. The high grade rooibos is exported and does not reach local markets, with major consumers being EU, particularly Germany, where it is used in creating flavoured blends for loose leaf tea markets. In development within South Africa are a small number of specialty tea companies producing similar blends.
Threat from climate change
The Rooibos plant is endemic to a small part of the western coast of the Western Cape province of South Africa, forming part of the fragile fynbos biome. It grows in a symbiotic relationship with local micro-organisms, and past attempts to grow Rooibos outside this area, in places as far afield as the United States, Australia and China, have all failed. Now, climate change may threaten the future survival of the plant and the R600-million Rooibos industry. Increasing temperatures and decreasing rainfall may result in the extinction of the Rooibos plant within the next century.
Legal protection of the name Rooibos
If passed by the parliament of South Africa, the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill of 2008 will provide for the protection and restriction on commercial use of the name Rooibos in that country. Similar legislation (protection of the names Champagne and Port for example) already exists in Europe. This is despite Rooibos South Africa’s decision to contest the Burke trademark on the grounds that “rooibos” is a generic term, rather than claiming it as a geographic indication.
Did you know?
- In fact, Rooibos ice-cream was even served at the wedding of celebrity couple Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones.
- Simon Le Bon, lead singer of top 80s band, Duran Duran, never goes on stage without drinking a cup of Rooibos first. (Then it must be good for the voice as well!)
- Italian company, Bvlgari, has a series of tea-based perfumes with a hot seller called Eau Parfumee au The Rouge . This unique fragrance features notes of bergamot, orange, pink pepper, fig pulp, Yunnan red tea, walnut, musk, and of course Rooibos.
- At Stellar Winery, situated at Trawal north of Cape Town in Rooibos country, Hanepoot grapes are dried on a bed of straw and Rooibos tea before being crushed and made into organic wine. This infuses the grapes with the fragrance of Rooibos for their dessert wine aptly called “Heaven-on-Earth”. This might just be the secret recipe that helped Stellar to numerous awards at the BioFach International Organic Wine Awards in 2007.
- Rooibos Espresso (trademarked as red espresso) has caught the world’s eye as an innovative product that makes tea trendy and cappuccinos healthy. It is Rooibos tea specially ground to be used in espresso machines and has won various awards such as the America Specialty Coffee Association’s ‘Best New Product’ in the Specialty Beverage category in 2008.
- The Cederberg area, where Rooibos is grown, is one of the richest regions of Southern African rock art. The rock art, left behind by the San people who originally inhabited the area, is said to be from 300 to 6000 years old. Maybe drinking Rooibos tea inspired them.
“Harvested from the mountainous Cederberg region of South Africa, Rooibos is a mellow and relaxing herb whose slightly nutty flavor offers hints of cherry and toffee. Moroccan Pomegranate infuses Rooibos with scarlet-red pomegranate flavor and tart hibiscus to create a delightfully fruity caffeine-free blend that you’ll savor both iced and hot.” – Charlie Baden, Celestial Seasonings Blendmaster
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