The Many Faces of Rooibos

Strawberry Rooibos
Strawberry Rooibos

As noted in these pages previously, rooibos is a unique herbal beverage that is also known as redbush and which is produced in only one specific region of South Africa. In most parts of the world it is hardly a household name, but by the same token there are many regions where it is gradually gaining in popularity.

At first glance (or taste) you could be forgiven for thinking that all rooibos is created equal. But then again the same could be said of such “real” teas as an Indian Assam or a Japanese Sencha. In reality, in the case of rooibos, much like with tea, you could apply the age-old dictum that you get what you pay for.

In my own case I found this out after drinking a generic label rooibos from the local grocery store for quite some time and then checking out a sample of an organic rooibos passed along to me by a tea merchant. If you guessed that the difference between these two was as pronounced as that between night and day then you’re exactly right.

Perhaps because of the fact that straight up rooibos has a flavor that some people would consider to be too plain, it is often used as the base for a wide variety of flavored blends, the number and diversity of which are equal to or greater than those of flavored teas.

Like tea, the flavor of rooibos is also affected by how it is processed. The leaves of Camellia sinensis – the tea plant – can be turned into any one of six main varieties (black, green, white, yellow, oolong, puerh) depending almost exclusively on how they are processed.

So too with rooibos, as noted in this informative article on rooibos processing. As the author notes, the main difference between the two types of rooibos (red, green) is simply a matter of processing. He points out that the leaves and stems of green rooibos are dried right after picking and then crushed, while the more common red rooibos that most of us are familiar with is made by oxidizing the plant matter. It might be oversimplifying things a bit but it’s a situation not totally unlike that of black tea, which is oxidized during processing, and green tea, which is not.

Don’t forget to check out William’s blog, Tea Guy Speaks.

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