Rooibos Tea is South Africa’s healthy alternative to tea or coffee. It has been popular in Southern Africa since pre-colonial times.
The tea is made from a plant which grows in the fynbos region of South Africa. The name literally means “red bush”. The leaves of the plant are picked and then oxidized to enhance the flavour – this process also produces the distinctive reddish-brown colour. It is prepared in the same way as black tea by steeping in water for a couple of minutes. I prefer to drink it, like most South Africans, with milk but many people drink it plain or with a slice of lemon. Sweeten with sugar or honey to taste although I do not think it needs it as it already has a slightly sweetness. Unoxidized “green” rooibos is also available; its flavour is subtler and more grassy.
The health benefits of Rooibos almost seem too good to be true. It has been purported to assist with nervous tension, allergies and digestive problems. Traditional medicinal uses include alleviating infantile colic, allergies, asthma and dermatological problems. Rooibos is also becoming more popular in Western countries due to its high level of antioxidants such as aspalathin and nothofagin, its lack of caffeine, and its low tannin levels. Two flavonoids found in rooibos, quercetin and luteolin, have been known to have cancer fighting qualities and clinical trials have shown that a high intake of rooibos tea resulted in significant reductions in lipid peroxidation, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and an increase in HDL cholesterol levels thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Historically, the cultivation of Rooibos only started in the 1930s and was hampered by the difficulty in obtaining seeds. By the 1940s the increasing demand and low supply had made them the most expensive vegetable seed in the world at 80 shillings a pound.
In 2005 a South African farmer, Carl Pretorius, patented a method to concentrate the flavour of rooibos so that it could be used in a similar way to coffee. As the first tea espresso in the world, it has won several awards. You can now buy “red espresso“, “red cappuccino” and “red lattes” in most Cape Town coffee shops and I can highly recommend them – they are much sweeter and gentler than coffee (still my poison of choice) but I find flavour much fuller than black tea. There are also several versions of iced tea made from rooibos. Our personal favorite is Bos, not only is it made by a friend of a friend, but the farm is organic and has amazing ethical farming principles – check them out at Klipopmekaar