What is Rooibos Tea? A Comprehensive Tea Profile
Rooibos tea comes from the shrub Aspalathus Linearis and has been gaining popularity through its widely known benefits to be a delicious and healthy beverage. But how exactly did this beverage come about?
To understand this, we trace back its origins through the indigenous Khosian tribesmen of South Africa. From here, we explore how Dutch settlers and an important botanist named Carl Thunberg played an integral part in the history of rooibos tea.
After this, we look at how Benjamin Ginsberg began to market rooibos and why Dr Le Fras Nortier researched cultivation methods to increase agricultural production of the red bush plant. Furthermore, we investigate how World War II resulted in the temporary demise of Rooibos and how a South African mother bolstered the popularity of rooibos.
To let the reader understand the true properties of rooibos, we provide a comprehensive rooibos tea profile. This profile goes on to highlight some of its suggestive health benefits. Finally, we discuss the processing methods and how to correctly brew a rooibos tea.
History of Rooibos Tea
Rooibos was discovered over 300 years ago. It was relatively unknown until the Aspalathus Linearis leaves were harvested by the Khoisan’s who were a South African tribe of Bushmen. It was regularly used as a herbal medicine to treat a plethora of ailments. Even though Rooibos was known to be delicious and nutritious, the indigenous tribes started to fade away and so did the knowledge of rooibos.
In 1772, botanist Carl Thunberg rediscovered the Aspalathus Linearis leaves which were previously used by the Khosian people. He went on to spread the interest of this delicious drink. Many of the adventurers and settlers were unable to enjoy black tea from Europe due to its high import price. Subsequently, Dutch settlers chose the native grown rooibos as a perfect alternative.
In 1904, a Russian immigrant known as Benjamin Ginsberg, with connections to the European tea industry, began to market rooibos. Ginsberg claimed rooibos was a herbal alternative to tea, with it being labelled “Mountain Tea”.
Ginsberg replicated the process of oxidation used to produce Black Keemun tea. As a result, the Green Aspalathus Linearis needle-like leaves turned into a mahogany red colour, which ultimately was resultant in the name rooibos (“red bush” pronounced “roy-bus”).
From here, Ginsberg began to trade rooibos locally and internationally which resulted in him being the first exporter of Rooibos tea. He later immigrated and left his son to continue working on the farm to produce high quality rooibos tea.
Dr Le Fras Nortier
In the 1930s, Dr Le Fras Nortier began researching the medical benefits and agricultural potential of Rooibos, predominately due to his fondness for the delicious and aromatic tea. His researched involved the task of cultivating rooibos plants on his farm and he paid villagers £5 per match box of rooibos plant seeds.
It proved a near impossible task to source the seeds as they were the size of a grain of sand. Nevertheless, a Khoi women noticed a colony of ants taking the seeds back to a nest which was then discovered to be a granary. From here, farmers were taught how to germinate the seeds and new cultivation methods were born. Thus, the commercial production of Rooibos truly began.
World War II
During World War II, loose tea from Asian countries was almost impossible to source and this resulted in an increased demand for Rooibos tea. Despite this, rooibos was expensive to purchase due to the high economic cost of seeds from the lack of rooibos plants. Thus, the high price still made rooibos difficult to obtain and enjoy.
After WWII, the Rooibos market collapsed and the Clanwilliam Tea Cooperative was formed in 1948. The goal was to regulate marketing, stables prices; improve and standardize quality. A new era began for Rooibos and it finally became stable and prosperous.
Dr Annique Theron
In 1968, Dr Annique Theron (a South African Mother) centred the limelight on rooibos tea when she claimed that rooibos helped alleviate her baby’s colic. In particular, she published a book called “Allergies: An Amazing Discovery” and continued to promote the health benefits.
Following on from here, a plethora of other studies from various professionals were released detailing the antioxidant benefits of rooibos teas and their health advantages.
With this new medical perspective on rooibos, the popularity of rooibos excelled to great heights.
You can learn more about the history of tea by reading one of our previous blog posts.
Rooibos Tea Profile
Rooibos tea isn’t true tea as it comes from the rooibos plant (also known as “redbush”), aspalathua linearis, which is a member of the legume plant family which originates from the Cederberg Mountains, South Africa (north of Cape Town). The redbush plant grows approximately 3 feet tall and has needle-like leaves.
South Africa is the sole producer of Rooibos tea and to date has 450 growers which is estimated to provide 15,000 tons of Rooibos annually. It has been suggested that just under 50% of the production of rooibos in South Africa is globally exported to 30 countries, including: Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Traditional rooibos tea is naturally oxidized. Although the rooibos leaves are originally green, once oxidized, the leaves turn a reddish-brown mahogany color - the unique color which rooibos tea is known, loved and consumed. It’s a flavorful alternative to green or black tea.
Rooibos tea is mildly sweet and delicious and is a healthy alternative to a regular cup of tea or coffee. In particular, rooibos is caffeine-free and contains no additives, colourings or calories. Rooibos contains less than 50% of tannins (predominately found in black tea) which are a substance which can leave your tea with a bitter or harsh aftertaste.
Alongside this, rooibos tea contains 50% more antioxidants than those found in green tea. For instance, rooibos is high in minerals which can aid the immune system. In particular, Rooibos contains iron, copper, manganese, zinc, calcium, fluoride, alpha hydroxy acid and magnesium.
Some of the health benefits of Rooibos tea can include:
- Improved skin
- Reduction of allergies
- Strengthened teeth & bones
- Stress relief
Rooibos is sorted and graded based on the colour, length and flavour. Ultimately the rooibos grade is resultant on the leaf to stem content ratio. This is done to achieve the highest quality standard of rooibos tea. Essentially the more oxidized the rooibos plant, the redder in colour, sweeter and richer in flavour the tea becomes.
It is important to note that you can also purchase unorthodox green rooibos tea which is produced in a similar way to traditional Green tea. For instance, a green rooibos tea is steamed and then dried immediately.
As Green rooibos tea is more involved in the production process, it is subsequently of a higher purchase rate than its red counterpart. Furthermore, when it comes to less oxidised unorthodox rooibos green tea, you can expect a grassy and a malty flavor, whereas the traditional redbush has a sweet, nutty flavour.
Types of flavored Rooibos Tea
Some of our rooibos tea flavours include:
An exotic and smooth rooibos which provides a velvet-mouth feel. An dash of Banana chips amplifies this infusion into a heavenly status.
A light rooibos with the taste of orange and a touch of chocolate. Expect to find: rooibos, chocolate chips, orange peel and orange blossoms.
As you taste the Strawberry Daydream, your mind begins to wander through strawberry fields. Expect to find: Rooibos, coconut shreds, flavoring, freeze-dried strawberries.
This Earl Grey contains organic Rooibos leaves with added natural bergamot flavouring.
This is only a short list of some of our rooibos teas which we have available.
We are constantly adding teas to our online shop as there are always new rooibos flavours being developed at True Tea Club.
How to Brew Rooibos Tea
All of our loose-leaf tea comes with brewing instructions; but nevertheless, there is a general consensus on how to brew rooibos tea.
First of all, it’s recommended that you scoop one tablespoon of loose tea and place it into the infuser or empty tea bag. Make sure that you boil the kettle to reach a temperature of 100c. (If in doubt, remove the kettle when it reaches the boil). Pour your water into your tea cup first, this will avoid scoldering the tea leaves.
Place the infuser inside the tea cup and let it steep for 3-5 minutes.
Rooibos tea can be brewed for longer than normal as the lack of tannins prevent the tea from turning bitter.
Taste the tea once its finished brewing and decide whether it needs to be steeped longer. The longer it’s brewed the more flavorsome and rich the flavors become. It is important to note that high quality rooibos tea can typically be infused more than once.
When your Rooibos tea has finished steeping, you can enjoy it on its own or add milk, honey or sweetener. Nevertheless, most of our Rooibos tea range includes added flavors, such as: Vanilla, Chocolate, or Strawberries; so there is no need to include additional flavors.
You can also visit our popular article on the introduction to loose leaf tea for more information on tea brewing methods.
In a nut shell:
1) Scoop one tablespoon of Rooibos tea
2) Boil the kettle to 100°C
3) Pour the water into a cup
4) Place the infuser inside for 3-5 minutes
5) Remove the infuser and add flavouring if desired
Aside from this, tea and coffee establishments in South Africa have recently started to offer Rooibos in alternative forms, such as Rooibos lattes, espressos and cappuccinos.
This emerging trend has begun to spread globally to countries such as the UK, USA and Germany.
If you're interested in rooibos tea, then you can receive a selection of four various rooibos teas to your door every month. We have a huge selection of loose tea available. With new and exciting teas and infusions for all tea lovers.
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