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!
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