Rooibos (aka “Red Tea”): What It Is, and Why We Love It!

In recent years, you’ve probably noticed beverages containing rooibos showing up in stores all over the place. Most of these products are ostensibly “healthy” tea drinks, so we naturally assume that rooibos is good for us – and thankfully, we’re right! We’ve carried a sizable selection of organic rooibos blends for years, but many people remain unclear about rooibos: What exactly is it? Where does it come from?  Why should we care?

Rooibos, aka "Red Tea"

The Rooibos Plant, Revealed

The word “rooibos” comes from the Afrikaans language and means “red bush,” which incidentally is a very apt description of the plant. Other names for rooibos are “bush tea,” “red bush tea,” “South African red tea,” or simply “red tea”. Rooibos isn’t actually a tea plant in the technical sense, meaning that it’s not derived from the Camellia sinensis like black tea, green tea, etc. It’s actually a legume: a bean plant called Aspalathus linearis. The leaves and stems are harvested during the summer and then left to “ferment” (technically “oxidize”), a process in which, among other things, the leaves shift from a yellow appearance to the characteristic red color (that said, unoxidized rooibos, or “green rooibos“, is also enjoyed).

Drinking rooibos “tea” began with the Dutch. Black tea was en vogue in eighteenth-century South Africa, but due to technological limitations, it was exceedingly difficult to import, leading the Dutch settlers to seek an alternative. That alternative, naturally, was rooibos, the indigenous peoples’ drink of choice.  This tea-alternative remained popular in South Africa for a couple hundred years, but didn’t become a commercial crop until the early 20th century.

The Man We Have To Thank For “Red Tea”

A gentleman named Benjamin Ginsburg immigrated to South Africa in 1904, and, being the scion of a prominent family in the European tea trade, was immediately interested in rooibos. Ginsburg borrowed traditional Chinese methods for curing tea, and perfected the art of curing rooibos. Since he could never properly cultivate the plant, Ginsburg was forced to rely on native farmers to bring it down from the mountains until the early 1930’s, when he convinced Dr. le Fras Nortier to attempt rooibos cultivation in the lowlands. After years of experimentation, Dr. Nortier succeeded, and the Klein Kliphuis farm became the first rooibos tea farm. Since then, rooibos has grown to become somewhat of a worldwide sensation, steadily growing in popularity, due to its taste and suggested health benefits (Source: South African Rooibos Council).

Rooibos Benefits Abound

The naturally caffeine-free nature of rooibos is widely appealing, but it has several other notable properties that you might not be aware of. For one thing, it’s jam-packed with antioxidants – some argue more than any other tea. It’s also got loads of flavinoids, compounds likely to have anti-allergenic, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti-carcinogenic benefits.

The history of rooibos is as long as is its list of nutritive properties. Whatever your interest in rooibos, sip confident in the knowledge that you are making a healthy (and tasty) decision!

October 28 2010 09:30 pm | Organic Rooibos

2 Responses to “Rooibos (aka “Red Tea”): What It Is, and Why We Love It!”

  1. Tricia on 07 Nov 2010 at 10:29 pm #

    I’ve often wondered what the story was behind rooibos, but never enough to do any research. Thanks for this informative post!

  2. Avril Deall on 05 Aug 2013 at 8:54 am #

    I always have Rooibos in my cupboard and drink it very often, I have for years now. I find it very soothing to the stomach as I cannot tolerate the tannins in black tea- its also delicious and full of antioxidants and antibacterial. I am so glad that I can buy it in Germany now too.

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