Rooibos is a type of beverage that is also sometimes referred to as tea, although this is not entirely accurate. What exactly is it and how to prepare and drink it?
Where to find it and what it is
Rooibos is a drink that is prepared from the leaves of a plant called the Cape tea plant. Tea tree is a genus of plants in the legume family. In total, it has at least 240 species.
Tea plants are shrubs that grow to a height of about 2 metres.
They typically have a main stem from which sprout thick branches and a number of smaller branches with clusters of tiny leaves at the ends. Tea trees have trifoliate leaves and yellow flowers.
They are generally arid-loving shrubs, with most species of tea plant found growing in the mountains. The plant grows exclusively in South Africa. Apart from only about six species, it is found in a small area in the Western Cape province.
The centre of production of the tea plant, from which rooibos is made, is specifically the Cederberg Mountains.
These plants have quite specific requirements for the soil, which should be sandy. They are demanding in terms of sunlight, shade and humidity. This makes their cultivation impossible elsewhere in the world, whether for the production of rooibos or for purely decorative reasons.
How it came to Europe
The Khoisan tribe was the first to cultivate the tea plant. Indigenous people have long used rooibos mainly for children, for whom it can relieve colic. The little ones are also given this tea to help them sleep better.
Also, the indigenous people of Africa understand that this natural remedy helps against asthma or allergies.
The magic of rooibos then remained forgotten for some time until modern botanists discovered it in the 18th century. Swedish naturalist Carl Thunberg noticed that local tribes brewed tea from the plant, which the scientist described as redbush or rooibos.
Its spread in Europe is then due to a man called Benjamin Ginsberg. This South African trader can now be described as the pioneer of the commercialisation of rooibos. He began buying it in bulk and selling it on.
How is it produced?
It is thanks to him that we can now regularly enjoy this drink in our Central European conditions. There are two types of this tea, namely red and green. Both are produced from the same plant, the difference being in the production technology, which still has a significant proportion of handwork.
Green rooibos are leaves that are only dried.
They are harvested early in the morning and go through a very quick heat treatment process. The resulting drink contains more antioxidants and is reminiscent of green tea in taste, colour and aroma. You will notice grass in the aroma and a subtle hint of herbs in the taste.
Red rooibos is created by putting the leaves through a fermentation process.
This alternative is more desirable. Tea trees grow at an altitude of 450 metres above sea level. The plants are productive for about 4 to 5 years.
The production of rooibos is done by cutting the branches twice a year, about 30 cm above the ground. They are chopped into pieces of approximately half a centimetre in size on the production lines. The processed parts then undergo fermentation, which takes place with the help of air and sunlight.
The drink has a distinctive reddish-brown colour and a sweetish taste.
It is low in tannins and caffeine-free, so you can enjoy it in the evening. It is also suitable for children. It can also be drunk by pregnant and breastfeeding women, as rooibos does not contain any substances that could harm a sensitive body.
Why drink it?
However, the benefits of consuming this drink are not only in its delicious aroma and great taste. Rooibos also contains a variety of vitamins and minerals that have a beneficial effect on our health. Rooibos is a rich source of copper, iron, magnesium, potassium and other minerals.
It also contains vitamin C and a variety of antioxidants.
These can slow aging and are often cited for their anti-cancer effects.
It is used as a means of improving digestion as well as for burning fat. It also serves as a prevention against heart and vascular problems. It also strengthens the immune system. It suppresses stomach acidity and relieves bloating. It can help us if we are suffering from headaches.
Due to its effects, you can indulge in it regularly.
There are no known contraindications or side effects.
How to properly prepare rooibos
Preparation is very simple: just pour boiling water over a teaspoon of rooibos and let it infuse for about 3 to 5 minutes. During this process, you should cover the tea to prevent the evaporation of the desired essential oils responsible for the taste of this drink.
Rooibos is not completely sensitive to the exact length of the steeping time, so if you leave it a little longer, nothing will happen.
Or it won’t make you bitter, it will just take on a more earthy taste. It is claimed that if you leave it to infuse for up to 10 minutes, you will increase its antioxidant effects. Of course, be careful to avoid using twice boiled water.
To the uninitiated, the taste may be strange, but rooibos is ultimately very popular with most consumers.
How should I serve it?
There are several ways to consume it. You can choose the traditional way, as practised by indigenous Africans. They eat rooibos with milk and honey.
Some sources also advise flavouring it with sugar and lemon, in accordance with our traditional customs.