Also known as “red bush tea,” rooibos is made from the Aspalathus linearis shrub plant native to the Cape province of South Africa. It has small needle-like leaves and creates a delicious, antioxidant-rich red brew.
The name rooibos means “red bush” in Afrikaans, and unfortunately for English speakers, the spelling is not something we are used to seeing, leading to a number of incorrect pronunciations (we’ve heard everything from “ruby-ohs” to “roo-EE-bose”). The correct pronunciation is “ROY-bos”, with the second syllable of the word sounding like 'boast' without the 't'.
Rooibos is naturally caffeine-free and has a slightly sweet, nutty and fruity flavor and aroma, great for drinking by itself or blended with other inclusions such as dried fruits, flowers and spices. Rooibos is known for its health properties as well – in addition to containing vitamins and minerals, it has an even higher antioxidant content than green tea, is hydrating and immune-boosting. Many people drink rooibos to combat allergies, or before bed to calm and relax them. It also helps maintain a healthy circulatory system and may reduce high blood pressure. Rooibos is one of the safest herbal drinks you can find, and is great for people of all ages – even babies!
Rooibos has its roots in the Cedarburg region of South Africa – for centuries, the Khoisans, a tribe of indigenous bushmen, harvested the leaves of the Aspalathus Linearis plant, bruised the leaves with hammers, and allowed them to oxidize and dry in the sun. They used the resulting tea as an herbal remedy as well as a refreshing and enjoyable beverage.
The secret of rooibos almost faded away as the isolated Kohisan tribe population dwindled, but in 1772, Swedish botanist Carl Thunberg rediscovered it, sparking a widespread interest in the tea. Dutch settlers in South Africa started drinking rooibos as an alternative to the more expensive black tea, which had to be imported.
The worldwide spread of rooibos began in 1904, when a Russian immigrant, Benjamin Ginsberg, took an interest in the herb and began exporting and marketing it as a substitute for tea.
In 1930, doctor and botanist Dr. Pieter Le Fras Nortier began researching the medicinal value and cultivation of rooibos. He eventually discovered the secret to germinating the seeds, and taught all the local farmers how to do it. Today, Dr. Nortier is known as the father of the rooibos tea industry. Originally a little-known indigenous drink, rooibos became an iconic national beverage and economic driver for South Africa, and a global commodity.
Most commonly, you’ll find rooibos in the form of red needle-like leaves (“Red Rooibos”), however you can also find Green Rooibos, which is simply the un-oxidized form (like green tea). Green rooibos is known for having an even higher antioxidant content than red rooibos – compared to red rooibos, it tastes grassier and maltier and may be slightly more expensive.
Honeybush comes from the Cyclopia plant and is a close cousin to rooibos – it also is caffeine-free and high in antioxidants, has a sweeter, honey-like flavor and the brew is slightly milder and more delicate.
Left: Red Rooibos | Middle: Green Rooibos | Right: Honeybush. Photo credit: Zhi Tea
ROOIBOS AND HEALTH
Rooibos is known for its many health benefits, and a lot of scientific research has been done on the herb in the past few decades. Here are some of the benefits that are commonly associated with rooibos:
BUYING AND STORING ROOIBOS TEA
When buying rooibos, there are a few characteristics you can look for to tell if it’s high quality or not. Higher grades have mainly longer needle-like leaves with few or no stems. There shouldn’t be many broken, crumbled leaves – they should be mostly intact. The aroma of the dry leaves should be rich and sweet. Loose leaf is generally going to be higher quality with a richer taste than bagged.
To maintain freshness, you should store your rooibos leaves in a dry, cool, odor-free environment, ideally in an airtight container. This will allow the leaves to retain their flavor and antioxidant content.
PREPARING ROOIBOS TEA
Rooibos tea is pretty easy to brew – you can either steep it like black/herbal tea using boiling water for several minutes (longer steep times bring out more flavor, antioxidants and nutrients), or you can cold brew it overnight! Here are a few general rooibos tea brewing tips to keep in mind:
HOW TO BREW ROOIBOS TEA
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
- Water Kettle or Pot to Heat Water
- Tea Leaves / Sachets / Bags
- Teapot with Filter / Teacup / Personal Mug and Filter
STEP ONE: HEAT THE WATER
- 212℉ // Soft boil
Pro Tip: Use filtered water for the best tasting cup!
STEP TWO: MEASURE THE TEA
- Generally 1 rounded tsp/1 tea bag per 8 oz. (1 cup) of water
Pro Tip: Add tea leaves to an infuser that lets them open fully, or you can put them straight into the teapot and use a strainer when you're pouring a cup!
STEP THREE: STEEP THE TEA
- 5+ minutes
Pro Tip: For rooibos, you can steep it longer than normal tea without getting bitterness. 7-10 minutes is recommended for optimal nutrient extraction.
Pro Tip: Cover your tea while it steeps to keep all the heat and aroma in the steeping vessel.
Additions: Many people enjoy the taste of pure rooibos, but it also goes very well with a milk of your choice and/or some sweetener. We LOVE making a nice warming rooibos latte.
STEP FOUR: ENJOY :)
Check out this short video on how to prepare rooibos tea:
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Written By: Melanie Mock