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  • What Is Rooibos Tea?
  • Amy Covey
  • Tea ChemistryTea Varieties

What Is Rooibos Tea?

What Is Rooibos Tea?

Released to public domain by owner. via Pixabay.

Though it is not made from the Camellia sinensis plant, rooibos is currently taking the tea world by storm. In fact, this popular herbal tea is made from a South African shrub, Aspalathus linearis, which has been harvested and brewed in hot water there for countless generations.

It was first documented by early European settlers during the 1700s as a notable local beverage made from wild plants, but cultivation proved difficult. Seeds were elusive, and when they were found, they were impossible to germinate. It was not until the 1930s that experiments conducted by Dr. Pieter Le Fras Nortier revealed a method for germination that allowed for rooibos to be grown commercially.

Rooibos is sometimes called "red tea" but does not come from the Camellia sinensis plant.

Released to public domain by owner. via Pixabay.

From the early days of colonization, Europeans in South Africa were promoting rooibos as an alternative to the expensive imported teas coming from China or India by way of Europe. The leaves were crafted in a similar fashion to familiar black tea: crushed and left to oxidize before a final drying process. The resulting red leaves looked and tasted a bit like the tea from home, too, and many Europeans began brewing it in an “English Breakfast” style, served with milk and sugar.

Today, there’s a “green” or unoxidized version of rooibos, inspired by lighter styles of traditional tea. There are high grades and low grades within each style, with higher grades being made of whole leaves and sorted to remove stems. It even contains polyphenol antioxidants, just as traditional teas do, and is surrounded by similar health marketing. But this “redbush” herbal tea does lack the caffeine, theanine, and tannins of traditional Camellia sinensis teas.

rooibos is often used as a non-caffeinated alternative to popular english-style black teas.

Released to public domain by owner. via Pixabay.

The rich, black tea-like flavors of rooibos make it a fantastic alternative for caffeine-conscious tea drinkers, as well as a good base for herbal blends. Many people appreciate the forgiving nature of this herbal brew, since low tannin levels mean less astringency and bitterness, even in everyday grades. The burgeoning rooibos industry is beginning to develop its own identity, as well, with a unique flavor wheel and analysis of terroir.

Unfortunately, combined with reduced crop yields due to climate change, all this popularity makes rooibos a difficult leaf to source at high quality. Though we have stocked this unique herbal tea in the past, we don’t currently feel we can do justice to the challenge of sourcing high quality rooibos from an area so removed from our expertise. For a rich herbal brew, we like to brew our Wild Guava Leaves from Taiwan, instead!


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  • Amy Covey
  • Tea ChemistryTea Varieties

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