Rooibos Adventure

Bourbon St Vanilla Rooibos
Bourbon St Vanilla Rooibos

From the highlands of South Africa the Cederburg area comes a little plant that is taking the world by storm: Rooibos. Trying some proved to be quite an adventure for hubby and me. But what is rooibos?

Rooibos (also called “Redbush”) is from the plant Aspalathus linearis. The leaves aren’t red on the bush but turn red when processed. They steep up a red liquid that contains calcium, potassium, alpha-hydroxy (for skin), zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, manganese, and fluoride but with no caffeine and half the tannin in some true teas (Camellia Sinensis). Health benefits were documented by Annique Theron in her book Allergies: An Amazing Discovery. More scientific study followed, showing that Rooibos contains flavanoids which are free-radical fighting antioxidants, that is polyphenol content similar to green tea. This herbal became popular as a substitute for true tea during World War II due to difficulty shipping tea from Asia to Europe, just as chicory became a substitute for coffee when bean prices spiked.

With all of this going for it, hubby and I were convinced to give Rooibos a try. Several samples arrived in the mail. One had no other flavorings added to it while the rest had everything from lemon and orange to mint and chocolate added to them. Time to begin.

We pre-warmed the teapot, added a teaspoon of leaves per cup, and boiled the water. That boiling water infuses the leaves to produce a liquid that is supposed to have a slightly nutty flavor and a red color.

Now, there are lots of kinds of nuts out there, from acorns to walnuts and a whole alphabet-full in-between. Each has its own distinct flavor, so saying something tastes “slightly nutty” isn’t exactly a doctoral thesis. It also tends to set up certain expectations — ones that these samples did not meet. The unflavored version was reminiscent of pencil shavings. The flavored versions were a bit better, which doesn’t say much for the flavor. If it has to be drowned in citrus, other fruits, mint, and chocolate, how good can it be?

Maybe our tastebuds are too used to the taste of jammy, malty Assams and muscatel-tasting Darjeelings from India, raisiny black Ceylons, slightly smoky Keemuns, spicy Yunnans, and earthy pu-erhs. Grassy and vegetal green teas as well as delicately nuanced white teas have probably also conditioned our palates to certain expectations. Whatever the case, the assault was pretty severe — to the point that the word “rooibos” is not uttered anymore in our house.

Of course, that leaves a lot more for you. Enjoy!

See also:
Honeybush Adventure
Rooibos: South Africa’s “Redbush” Herbal Tea

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12 thoughts on “Rooibos Adventure

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  5. Rob's tea pot

    I have tried several varieties of camellia sinensis from China India, Formosa, etc and have enjoyed all of my 12 selections but I also have enjoyed very much a cuppa Rooibos from time to time. I have noticed that the grocer’s brands of any tea tend to be like old sawdust, wood shavings or what ever else one tends to describe them by, where as well known respectable vendors such as Twinnings, Yorkshire Gold and Uptons Tea in America tend to be the best quality and value for your money,so my advice is stay far away from the grocer’s tea and spend a little more for better quality.

    1. A.C. Cargill

      Sorry, Rob, but these were not from grocery stores and so we can’t put the blame there. They were sent to me by vendors touting the high quality of their products. I review teas and so consented to try them. Grocery stores get a bit of a bad rap, but having know people in that sector of the job market, I can say that they are tightly regulated and cannot let old products sit on the shelves. Items go back to the suppliers after a certain time. Thanks for reading and for the comment!

  6. I am a true tea lover. I did try a rooibos I liked once but mostly because it tasted like a candy bar. Just plain rooibos is not my thing. When you wrote; jammy, malty, etc. that, ‘tea tooth’ not sweet tooth, kicked in and now I must go brew some good a Camellia Sinensis for myself.

  7. Rooibos man

    You had some awful rooibos if it tasted like pencil shavings.

    Rooibos by itself is fantastic and is sweet without the need to add anything.

    1. A.C. Cargill

      You may be right, but I have tried rooibos from several vendors. Both hubby and I agree that taste is awful. Not our cuppa tea! Everyone is different. If you like rooibos, feel free to indulge. We will stick with Camellia Sinensis! Thanks for reading.

  8. I’ve heard that in South Africa the preferred way to prepare rooibos is to boil it for about 10 minutes or so. Not sure if that’s true but perhaps yours was too weak.

    1. A.C. Cargill

      I followed the vendor’s instructions, as always when trying something new. I also tried the rooibos several other ways, with same results. I’m just a Camellia Sinensis kinda person!

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