Hailing from the Western Cape province of South Africa, rooibos tea (loosely pronounced roy-boss) is an easy-drinking herbal tisane made from a plant of the same name. The Afrikaans word rooibostee or rooiboshtee means “red bush tea,” and it yields a welcoming cup of naturally caffeine-free tea commonly known as “bush tea” in Britain. Thanks to its honeyed flavor and lack of astringency, it rarely needs to be sweetened and makes for a refreshing iced tea as well as a soothing warm beverage.
A BRIEF HISTORY
For centuries, rooibos tea was a local drink known only to those who lived near the fynbos, or shrub, of South Africa. Traditionally grown in the mountainous region now known as Cederberg, the tea leaves were gathered, rolled into woven bags, and transported down the mountainside via donkey. The leaves were then cut by axe and bruised with metal tools to prepare them for drying in the sun.
As the 19th century approached, rooibos tea grew popular among Dutch imperialists who had settled in the area, but none were able to cultivate the seeds and grow a commercial enterprise. It wasn’t until 1903 when a doctor in the nearby Olifants River Valley began experimenting with the rooibos plant’s cultivation that the tea began to show potential for more widespread enjoyment. Dr. Pieter Le Fras Nortier, a South African medical practitioner and conservationist, spent his free time conducting agricultural experiments and found a way to encourage the germination, growth, and harvesting of the rooibos plant.
His breakthrough research and its implementation by the community stimulated the local economy and made the drink a national, and later, global beverage. Within a decade, the rooibos seed was the most expensive and sought-after vegetable seed in the world, and Dr. Nortier has been known as the father of rooibos tea ever since. The effects of climate change in the region have concerned some horticulturists and climate scientists about the future of rooibos beyond the 21st century; in the meantime, it’s a beloved beverage that offers a calm sense of pleasure to those who drink it
HEALTH BENEFITS OF ROOIBOS TEA
Herbal tisanes naturally contain no caffeine, and rooibos is no exception. So, for those whose heart rate, blood pressure, anxiety level or overall sense of calm is sensitive to caffeine, tisanes are a wise and delicious choice. Likewise, since caffeine is a diuretic, all stimulant-free herbal beverages are better sources of pure hydration than coffee or caffeinated teas.
A calming cup of rooibos tea.
The health benefits of rooibos are plenty, with its antioxidant properties chief among them. Extensive studies on rooibos have shown perks ranging from the ability to repair oxidative stress on the liver to the potential for preventing the onset and progression of diabetes. A particular type of antioxidant known as “polyphenols” found in many herbal teas is thought by many researchers to benefit the human body in a number of ways, most notably slowing down signs of the oxidation process we generally call “aging.”
ROOIBOS TEA PREPARATION
Like any herbal tisane, rooibos should be prepared with water heated to 208 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Heat water to 208 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Pour 8 ounces of water over one Tea Forte pyramid infuser (or 1 Tbsp of loose tea in a reusable infuser).
- Let steep for approximately five minutes or longer. Unlike tea leaves, rooibos doesn't get bitter the longer you steep it.