There are many wonderful reasons you should get to know rooibos tea. First, though, let’s address the awkward bits: how to pronounce it, and the fact that it’s not actually a tea at all. Rooibos is pronounced ROY-bos. And it’s a tisane – or herbal tea – meaning it’s not produced from the Camellia sinensis plant from which all tea is derived. Rooibos is made with leaves from the hearty Aspalathus linearis shrub usually grown on the west coast of South Africa. Cederberg is a mountainous region near the coast, with plenty of winter rain. For centuries, the indigenous peoples of the Cederberg region harvested rooibos as a beverage and for its herbal remedies, but the beverage faded with the decline in the numbers of indigenous people. In the 1700s, the Dutch settlers began brewing it as an alternative to more expensive black tea that was imported at the time.
Rooibos is sometimes called South African red tea – and that’s because the shrub’s soft needle-like leaves and stems are cut and bruised then oxidized, which produces its distinctive red colour. Lesser known is green rooibos, which doesn’t go through the oxidation process. Red rooibos has an earthy aroma and a sweet, nutty flavour. Woody, smoky, vanilla and caramel are some of the notes used to describe the tea. Green rooibos is grassier, a bit malty. As a tisane, rooibos is caffeine-free. It’s also low in tannins and rich in antioxidants. It has all the benefits of green and white teas (those antioxidants), without the caffeine and the tannins. It makes a great relaxing cup before bed.
To properly prepare rooibos, heat the water to a lower temperature – not a full boil. Use 2 grams of loose leaf tea per 8-ounce cup, and steep 4-6 minutes. The tea should be a deep rich red colour. Enjoy it straight-up, or with a bit of honey, lemon or even milk.