Having spent many years in South Africa, we had become very familiar with Rooibos, or as the Xhosa people call it, “Bush Tea”.
Despite that, most of what follows, comes from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Rooibos is pronounced “ROY-bos, and is Afrikaans for "red bush". Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, European travellers and botanists visiting the Cedarburg region in South Africa commented on the profusion of "good plants" for curative purposes. In 1772, Swedish botanist Carl Thunberg noted that "the country people made tea" from a plant related to rooibos or redbush.
Traditionally the local people would climb the mountains and cut the fine needle-like leaves from wild rooibos plants. They then rolled the bunches of leaves into hessian bags and brought them down the steep slopes on the backs of donkeys. The leaves were then chopped with axes and bruised with hammers, before being left to dry in the sun.
The Dutch settlers to the Cape developed rooibos as an alternative to black tea, an expensive commodity for the settlers who relied on supply ships from Europe.
In 1904, Benjamin Ginsberg, a Russian/Jewish settler to the Cape, riding in the remote mountains, became fascinated with this wild tea. He ran a wide variety of experiments at Rondegat Farm, finally perfecting the curing of rooibos. He simulated the traditional Chinese method of making very fine Keemun, by fermenting the tea in barrels, covered in wet, hessian sacking that replicates the effects of bamboo baskets.
In the 1930s, Ginsberg persuaded local doctor and Rhodes scholar Dr. le Fras Nortier to experiment with cultivation of the plant. Le Fras Nortier cultivated the first cultivated plants at Clanwilliam on the Klein Kliphuis farm.
Its scientific name is Aspalathus linearis) and it is a broom-like member of the legume family of plants growing in South Africa's fynbos. The generic name comes from the plant Calicotome villosa, aspalathos in Greek. This plant has very similar growth and flowers to the redbush. The specific name linearis comes from the plant's linear growing structure and needle-like leaves.
Rooibos is grown only in a small area in the region of the Western Cape Province. Generally, the leaves are oxidized, a process often, and inaccurately, referred to as fermentation by analogy with tea-processing terminology. This process produces the distinctive reddish-brown colour of rooibos and enhances the flavour.
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.
As said above, the plant is used to make a herbal tea called rooibos tea, bush tea (esp. Southern Africa), redbush tea (esp. UK), South African red tea, or red tea. The product has been popular in Southern Africa for generations and is now consumed in many countries. It is sometimes spelled rooibosch in accordance with the old Dutch etymology, but this does not change the pronunciation.
It is said that in South Africa it is common to drink rooibos tea without milk, but instead with a slice of lemon and sugar or honey to sweeten. (*However I have never had it without milk and sugar Xhosa style. i.e. Heaps of both Long life Milk and sugar.)
The flavour of rooibos tea is often described as being naturally sweet (without sugar added) and slightly nutty. Rooibos can be prepared in the same manner as black tea, and this is the most common method.
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 in the United States.
Rooibos is becoming more popular in Western countries particularly among health-conscious consumers, due to its high level of antioxidants such as aspalathin and nothofagin, its lack of caffeine, and its low tannin levels compared to fully oxidized black tea or unoxidized green tea leaves. Rooibos also contains a number of phenolic compounds, including flavanols, flavones, flavanones, and dihydrochalcones.
Rooibos is also purported to assist with nervous tension, allergies and digestive problems.
Traditional medicinal uses of rooibos in South Africa include alleviating infantile colic, allergies, asthma and dermatological problems.
Although human studies of rooibos are scarce in the scientific literature, animal studies suggest it has potent antioxidant, immune-modulating and chemopreventive effects. In addition, rooibos tea has not been found to have any adverse effects.
It is often claimed that "Green" rooibos (see above) has a higher antioxidant capacity than fully oxidized rooibos. However, one study, using two different ways of measuring antioxidant activity, found conflicting data, with green rooibos showing more activity under one measure, and less activity using the other. The study also found conflicting data when comparing both forms of rooibos to black, green, and oolong tea**, although it consistently found both forms to have less activity than green tea.
In 2010, eleven poison dart frogs were raised at WWT Slimbridge by amphibian keepers in pint glasses of water, topped up with shop-bought Rooibos tea. Rooibos was used because it contains antioxidants with anti-fungal properties. This successfully protected the frogs against infection by chytridiomycosis.
In another recent study performed by Japanese scientists, it also suggests that Rooibos tea is beneficial in the treatment of acne. This is due to levels of alpha hydroxy acid, zinc and superoxide dismutase present in the herb.
A couple of things jumped out at me from the above information. The first being that although living in the eastern Cape region of South Africa for many years and having drunk Rooibos many times I didn’t really know its history or uniqueness to the Cape region. Just showing that because we have known and used something for many years it doesn’t mean we know all there is to know about something does it?
Secondly, I was surprised to find that there even was a Green type of Red tea! Nor did I know about the Coffee type drink either. Again showing that often we just don’t know as much as we think we do, do we?
And thirdly and finally, even now knowing all the above good qualities of Rooibos tea, it still doesn’t make me like it any better than I did before. To me it is an acquired taste, and a taste that I never really acquired.
So as we close now, are you really as knowledgeable about the things you claim to know a lot about, and especially for those things from your own area? Again just a little for you to think on later, perhaps?
*My own personal comments.
**See an earlier blog of mine on the various types of camellia teas.