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Rooibos Tea: Holiday Time, Any Time

Updated on August 26, 2011

I just finished a cup of rooibos tea. It’s autumn here, and next door, I can hear the annoying sounds of a leaf blower. My dogs are running around the house, barking occasionally, most likely because they detect one of the neighbors in his back yard. I have many important things to do. But I’m pretty mellow just now, pretty relaxed. My cup of red bush tea has put me in a fine mood to write.

I discovered rooibos (pronounced roy-bus) tea sometime last year, and it has quickly become one of my favorite teas of all time, and I hope, yours. Most people like it, a few just don’t care for it at all, but hardly anyone can come up with a good description of its taste. Some say that its taste is reminiscent of vanilla. Others that the taste is earthy and mellow. Since I’m not in the same league with James Beard, I’ll go with vanilla. All I know is, rooibos has a very pleasing taste.



The Color Red


I think I’m on safer ground describing the color of rooibos. It reminds me of a glass of white Zinfandel held up in strong light, but with more color saturation. It definitely has a red-orange cast that is more orange than orange pekoe tea ever thought to be. For the uninitiated, I include below a photo taken of various teas, so you can see the differences in shades.

Solar Tea Line-up -- from l. to r., 2 rooibos tea blends, a blueberry/lemon herbal, Ceylon black tea


Cup of Rooibos Tea


Red Bush Origins


Rooibos (Aspalanthus linearis is the botanical name) grows in one place on the earth:  in the Cederburg Mountains in South Africa, just northwest of Capetown.  The region’s  hot and dry summers, winter rainfall, and lean, sandy soil combine to make a very favorable climate for this one-of-a-kind plant.  As it blossoms out, the bush has nice yellow flowers.  Later, the small, needle-like leaves are harvested, and it is only then, as the leaves are sun-dried, that the red color appears.  It is called rooibos, because in the Afrikaans language, rooi is the word for red, and bos is the word for bush.  Hence, its nickname, red bush.


Natives of the area had been making a tea from the leaves for centuries when the plant was discovered by Dutch settlers to the region.  Newcomers quickly learned how to harvest and make the tea, which was much more economical than drinking their beloved, imported black tea.

Good Things About Rooibos

Strictly speaking, rooibos isn’t a tea – it’s a tisane (herbal infusion). Real tea, whether black, green, or oolong, contains caffeine and tannins. Red bush tea has no caffeine and only small amounts of tannin.  Instead, it is full of vitamin C, potassium, calcium, zinc, and many other minerals necessary to human health. Rooibos is a good source of anti-oxidants. In fact, it is the only natural source of the anti-oxidant aspalathin.

So, what’s so special about the qualities of the rooibos plant? Many scientists have now studied the characteristics of rooibos, and published their findings, a few of which are linked below. Most are animal studies, though, and additional research will be necessary. The studies do suggest that the powerful antioxidants might have preventative and palliative medical uses.

Ways to Drink It


But enough of my harping on its benefits.  This tea is refreshing any time.  In fact, I think it tastes best chilled and sweetened with a little agave nectar, though it’s also the perfect calming hot drink in the evening.  You can steep it for hours, and it won’t be too strong.  You can cook with it (many aficionados do, in a variety of culinary expressions) and you can leave it in your refrigerator for two weeks because you haven’t figured out what to do with it yet.  In the garden, snails hate it and won’t come near it.  You’re clever enough to come up with more uses for it, aren’t you?

A Unique Twist

I know that the South Africans are even more clever, but in a marketer’s way. They have discovered a method to make red espresso. It’s simply the rooibos tea, but ground in such a way that it is fit for the espresso machine. As they’ve got it highly concentrated, you get a more robust taste that can be mixed into a variety of drinks much like coffee espresso, but without the caffeine. You can buy the red espresso drink at venues all over South Africa, and less frequently, in the United States. But you can purchase the red espresso packets, and experiment with your espresso machine. This will impress your friends, because they aren’t expecting red bush espresso, are they? And the manufacturer makes the claim that the concentrated form of rooibos has five times the antioxidants contained in green tea.

To make matters more complicated, there is even an unoxidized green rooibos tea.

Red and green. It sounds like a plan for Christmas!

A Few Tips

  • For the best prices, buy rooibos tea in bulk.
  • Try some of the amazing rooibos tea blends. Lemongrass blended in is wonderful.
  • Try hot red bush tea with honey and milk.


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