I first encountered rooibos tea in a Paris tea shop, called Cape and Cape, that specializes in teas sourced from African countries. I was there doing a tasting and came across a scarlet hued tea that looked like a thousand pieces of saffron. The needle point leaves produced a warm melange of slight fruitiness, floral notes, and earthiness. I was smitten.
Now that I know to keep an eye out for it, I’ve started seeing rooibos tea everywhere. (Like you get a new car, and then you notice it on every street corner.) You can purchase it loose leaf as well as in tea bags. When I visited South Africa, I was able to purchase the locally produced Mandela Tea and found my adoration for the tea grow even deeper.
Rooibos is an indigenous herb to the mountainsides of the Cederberg region in South Africa, and locals refer to it as red bush or African red tea. The Cederberg region is a World Heritage site with a bustling ecological system of hundreds of plants species and intricate sandstone rock formations. The tea is a staple to region and has been consumed for centuries as it is indigenous to the region and is currently only harvested in South Africa. With improvements to cultivation and commercialization, rooibos tea became more prevalent on the world stage in the 1930’s.
The raw rooibos leaves are initially green. The vibrant red color does not appear until after the leaves are processed during post harvest fermentation. This is when naturally occurring enzymes oxidize and turn the leaves from green to red. If you come across green rooibos tea, you’ve basically found the unprocessed version.
Both green and red contain high level of antioxidants, with the green version having a higher concentration. You can drink several cups a day without getting jittery or crashing because the tea is caffeine-free. It’s safe for infants, children, and breastfeeding mothers to drink. It can be enjoyed hot or cold and is typically served with milk and sugar (or honey), as you would with black tea. It also pairs well with a splash of fresh lemon juice or a hint of grated fresh ginger. In terms of flavor, this tea is enjoyably mild and, and it blends well with other teas, spices, and fruit flavors.
Not only does the tea contain a wealth of antioxidants, but rooibos is also rich in vitamin C and low in tannins. Tannin is a naturally occurring compound found in plants, notably present in black teas, coffee and wines, that is responsible for astringency, color, and sometimes flavor. The tannin levels in wine typically determines its dryness. Tannin also inhibits the body from absorbing iron. If bitter tea is too overwhelming for your tastebuds, rooibos is a great alternative to try.
It is widely consumed in the United States, Japan, Germany, the U.K. and the Netherlands. Woman in Japan drink the tea for it’s anti-aging and beauty benefits. By using it as a mist or rinse, you can use lukewarm rooibos to refresh the face and brighten tired eyes. It’s also said the help treat acne as a topical application and it brings sheen to your hair.
All of that said, if you feel like venturing outside your typical tea box, rooibos should be the next on your to-brew list.