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Rooibos


About Rooibos


Rooibos boasts both a wonderful taste and a history like no other. It is also known as ‘Redbush’, ‘Bush Tea’, ‘Red Tea’ or, if you prefer the name given long ago by Dutch settlers in South Africa, ‘Rooibosch’.

Rooibos teas have become rather fashionable in recent times, so much so that there are now several ‘red bush’ variants of coffee, beer and liqueur, intoxicants we seldom see here at the Kettle Shed!  The fruity flavour, origin and purported health benefits of rooibos are explored more fully below, along with a few hints on how to brew it to your satisfaction.


Taste 

Bright, harmonic notes of fruit and malt, very refreshing.

Aroma 

Smooth, sweet fragrance with mellow fruit flair.

Appearance 

An eponymous sunset-red infuses every cup.

The small yellow flower of the rooibos plant could be considered indicative of its jubilant and somewhat tangy orange taste. Patrons of this tea will find they are left with no aftertaste on their palate, but rather a fond memory of a light, smooth flavour.

Taste notwithstanding, in the rich, cavernous world of tea the pleasure imparted by even the most sumptuous slurp would be rendered hollow were it not reinforced by the delicate olfactory overtones which we expect from a good brew. Rooibos' aroma has a simplistic sweetness with a rather naughty hint of vanilla. Red tea produces a sensory experience that is satisfying, yet it leaves one wanting more.

 

The History and Origin of Red Bush Rooibos

This tea comes from the leaves of the rooibos plant, which are described as small and pointed, almost needle-like. Much unlike other teas, it does not come from the Camellia sinensis; instead, rooibos is from the legume plant family, which is actually better known as the bean or pea family.

As mentioned, rooibos possesses many other names such as South African Red Tea and Bush Tea. The term ‘South African’ is a clear reference to the country of origin. The pseudonym, Red Tea, is derived from the red colour of the bush from which it is picked, as well as the dark and rusty-red colour it exhibits after oxidation (the process which produces its unique flavour).

Like black tea, red bush undergoes a thorough oxidation (also known as ‘fermentation’) of the leaf cells through exposure to oxygen. Green rooibos, a lesser known variant of the tea, is not fermented, rather it is immediately dried.

It is thought that the Khoisans, Bushmen of the Cederburg region of South Africa, began processing the rooibos plant long before it became popular. The tea may have been forgotten if it were not for the European botanist, Carl Thunberg, who discovered the people of this region making tea from a red bush. Despite this, it took a Russian immigrant named Benjamin Ginsberg, who used experimental tea manufacturing methods to grow and refine the tea until it became rooibos as we know it today.

Its popularity grew further during World War II because it was difficult to import tea from Asian countries. However, rooibos tea's final explosion in popularity came as a result of a book. The book, originally titled ‘Allergies, an amazing discovery’, was written by Annique Theron in 1968 and it was about the health benefits of rooibos tea. Following this publication, scientific interest and study concerning rooibos increased.

 

Health Benefits of Red Bush Rooibos

This tea is thought to possess quite a few health benefits. Many people choose this tea because it has no caffeine, fewer tannins and it contains plenty of those wholesome antioxidants. Many other teas contain antioxidants, but they also have caffeine and tannins. People who choose rooibos tea are able to reap the benefit of antioxidants without the effects of caffeine and tannins, such as caffeine-fuelled insomnia and the bitter mouth-puckering caused by tannins.

There are many documented benefits imparted by the consumption of antioxidants. They are not produced by the body, so we must ingest them. Antioxidants have properties that fight signs of aging by enhancing the process of cell regeneration. In fact, antioxidants are thought to neutralize free radicals within the body. These free radicals are a product of damaged or unstable cell molecules, and they have been linked to cancer.

Rooibos tea may even help stop pesky food cravings from ruining your diet throughout the day because it has been shown to help control appetite. It is recommended that you drink this tea anywhere from two to five times per week, but more often will certainly do no harm. 

 

Brewing Instructions

  • It is not uncommon for South Africans to enjoy a cup of rooibos tea with milk and sugar as they would a cup of black tea. However, rooibos tea is quite versatile so you can easily omit the sugar or milk (or both) and still savour a highly satisfactory cup.
  • Because there is no caffeine in this tea you can enjoy it any time of day. As such it can compliment your lunch just as easily as it can round off a contemplative evening.
  • When brewing rooibos tea you should steep for a longer period of time, approximately five minutes should do the trick. Alternatively, for green rooibos, three to five minutes is ideal. You do not have to worry about turning your tea bitter as you do with other teas (such as black tea). This is mainly because its leaves are able to withstand a greater amount of heat, which only adds to its wonderful versatility.
  • You can steep rooibos in steamed milk and add a touch of vanilla syrup to make ‘Cape Town Fog’, an alternative to London Fog (which is made in the same way but with Earl Grey instead of rooibos).