What is Rooibos tea? (and how do you say it??)

What is Rooibos tea? (and how do you say it??)

Roo-ee-boos? Roy-bos? How do you say it? Rooibos trips a lot of people up, in many more ways than the name. For a start, it tastes like it should be a tea, but is actually caffeine free and from a completely different plant making it a herbal infusion, not a true tea!

Rooibos is an endemic South African plant pronounced ‘redbush’ (rooibos meaning redbush in Afrikaans). The name is actually geographically protected; rooibos grown anywhere else in the world other than the Western cape of South Africa is not legally allowed to be called Rooibos. 

Rooibos is relatively new to the market (though of course, it goes back centuries in its traditional communities), having only become available to trade in 1930. And, we’re grateful to that - it has many unique health benefits including the rare antioxidant Nothofagin which is only found in Rooibos and New Zealand red beech. 


Health benefits 

Rooibos’ rare and treasurable content of Nothofagin is being researched for its support in cardiovascular health and metabolic health. 

Rooibos extracts have been shown to improve glucose uptake and stabilise blood sugar (which is the reason behind many of our mid-afternoon low energy slumps), and to balance the gut microbiome. 

With abundantly high antioxidant levels, rooibos has also been shown to decrease vascular inflammation and stop cell damage that comes about from our daily exposure to stress. 

There’s a body of research focused on rooibos’ weight management support; it can help your brain to recognise fullness, and improve metabolic function and fat storage. This in itself supports the cardiovascular system, but rooibos can also improve cholesterol levels lending to an overall heart-protective effect. 

Many people consider switching their caffeinated tea for rooibos owing to its mildly tea-remnant flavour and lack of caffeine. Surprisingly, in doing this, you could also be increasing your iron levels naturally as the tannins in traditional tea often interfere with nutrient absorption!

Its sweet, subtle flavour is (apparently) unsuspectingly strong in health benefits! Who knew you could *enjoy*  your medicine! 


History

Rooibos tea originates from South Africa's indigenous Khoisan people. In a recent legal battle, the Khoisan people won the right to 1.5% profit of the trade value of rooibos sold to processors. That’s a world first, a win, and an invitation to remember the cultures who give us the tea’s we love!

Traditionally, the Khoisan people used rooibos for its medicinal properties. It gained commercial significance in the early 20th century, and its popularity surged during World War II when trade restrictions limited traditional teas, leading to global recognition and exportation.

Rooibos tea's rise was further propelled by scientific validation of its health benefits, including its unique antioxidant properties. 

Today, it stands as a cultural emblem of South Africa where its name and growth is protected; it’s prized for its unique flavour, caffeine-free profile, and contribution to global tea culture and commerce.


How is it grown? 

Rooibos plants typically take about 18 months to reach maturity. Harvesting occurs during the South African summer months when the plants are in full bloom, with workers carefully hand-cutting the fine needle-like leaves. After harvesting, the leaves undergo a fermentation and oxidation process to develop their characteristic reddish-brown colour and rich flavour profile. It’s this part of the process where conditions can be altered and the grading of the tea comes in.  

Once processed, the tea leaves are dried in the hot sun.

 

What are the grades of rooibos? 

Based on variances in this growing and processing, rooibos comes in two kinds and various grades, each grade and type offering distinct flavour profiles and health benefits. 

The two primary types are "fermented" (red rooibos) and "unfermented" (green rooibos). Fermented rooibos undergoes oxidation, resulting in a reddish-brown hue and a rich, slightly sweet flavour with hints of caramel and vanilla. This grade is popular for its robust taste and is commonly enjoyed as a standalone beverage or blended with other flavours. 

On the other hand, unfermented rooibos retains its green colour and has a milder, grassier taste with slightly floral notes (similar to green tea). It’s chosen for its fresher, delicate flavour, often preferred by those seeking a lighter tea experience or looking to maximise antioxidant and health content, as green rooibos tends to contain higher levels of antioxidants compared to its fermented counterpart. 

Sometimes rooibos is graded by its shape, content and quality though grading systems can vary among producers. ‘Standard’ grade rooibos typically consists of average quality leaves, while ‘choice’ grade offers higher quality with more uniform leaves and a smoother flavour. ‘Super’ grade rooibos represents the highest quality, featuring larger, intact leaves prized for their superior taste and appearance.

 

Our blends and recommendations 

Rooibos was traditionally a medicinal tea; it may not have necessarily been consumed for taste. But today, some of the most popular ways of enjoying the tea include with almond or coconut milk (think chai-sort-of flavour), iced, or as a base for a herbal blend. 

Our own blends are carefully crafted to complement and highlight the unique smooth, earthy, nutty taste of rooibos and deliver a delightfully addictive flavour profile. 

Perhaps our most beloved rooibos-based blend is the Ayurvedic Total Body - balanced with rose and uplifted with mint.  

Some of our more warm and cosy rooibos blends (perfect for grounding after a bracing nature-walk) include the Dark and Stormy (our twist on the classic cocktail), and the vanilla jazz (frangipane-flavours of vanilla, almond and naturally nutty rooibos). 

Or, if you’re looking to rooibos for a tea-replacement, our Green Rooibos Body Boost will deliver the perfect antioxidant-kicking pick-me-up. 

However you like to enjoy your rooibos, we’d love to hear; send us your photos and rooibos recommendations!

Check out our full collection of rooibos mixes here!

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