There’s no such thing as red tea, at least not in the strictest sense of the word. But there are some beverages that have come to be referred to as “red tea” over the years and will probably continue to be referred to as such by anyone but the most exacting sticklers for accuracy. Take China, for instance, where the tea most of us refer to as black is often called red tea, a name most likely refers to the reddish color of the finished product.
But some of the most popular red teas are not tea at all, at least not in the sense that they are derived from Camellia sinensis, the tea plant. The most popular of these “teas” is rooibos, a distinctive herbal beverage that only produced in a certain region of South Africa. Rooibos, also known as redbush, is known for the red color of its processed leaves and also for the deep red color of the steeped liquid, but it’s actually not the only red “tea” that hails from South Africa.
The distinction of being South Africa’s second most popular red tea goes to a product known as honeybush (Cyclopia spp.), which is also known as heuningbos, in the local Afrikaans language. The name of this beverage is said by some to be derived from its taste and by others due to the fact that its flowers smell something like honey, so take your pick as far as that is concerned. Honeybush is typically not as “red” as its South African cousin, whether in the form of processed leaf or finished product and it tends to have a more delicate taste than rooibos, which can be an acquired taste for some (as the editor of this blog will certainly attest).
While there are nearly two dozen types of honeybush plant there are really only two at the most that are used as an herbal beverage. Honeybush has seen something of an upswing in popularity over the course of the last decade or so, with about a tenfold increase in production from the years 1997 to 2004 and will undoubtedly continue to do so.
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