Tea with Anton Louw, founder of Sunbird Rooibos

It’s been 3 years since we sold our first tea and while some things are different, others remain as constants, markers in a turbulent world. All the best laid plans of mice, it was the same with this venture. Our initial ideas were proven false when held up to light. Rugs underfoot were more in motion than not.

Yet, we endured and adapted. Quick feet, quick minds. And now, for the first time, we’re returning to the path that we originally imagined. And our soles are finding a surer footing, even if the way is still winding, and the path leads upward beyond our gaze.

When we began this journey, the Western Cape was in the grip of one of the worst droughts in recorded history. This reduced the yields of tea dramatically and sent prices soaring. It made it an interesting time to begin a tea business. This year we had better rains, but still not so high to offset the dryness of the previous two parched winters. Tea prices have come down fortunately, but while that might be a blessing for us, we are more pleased for the increased yields for the farmers and allows them to continue their land stewardship. So, 2019 might have been the first year that was ‘normal’ for tea production for us. But, then,
with the spectre of climate change, is there such a thing as normal anymore?

Also making a new normal is how Rooibos is becoming more popular around the globe. No longer an obscure herbal tea, it is now receiving the attention it deserves. America, long a trend setter for health terms are buying ever more Rooibos and it’s even getting mentions in Pop culture – Rooibos featured in a Marvel comic and then again in the legal drama Suits.

Elsewhere, such as Japan, which has been hosting the Rugby World Cup, Rooibos appreciation has also been growing in leaps and bounds. At time of writing, the Springboks have just got to the final. We hope the boks will win, but also with rugby becoming more popular in the Far East, we hope that this translates to more interest in rugby playing nations, and a further boost for Rooibos in Japan.

Japan has long fascinated us for a myriad of reasons – the culture, the tea and the relationship that the Japanese have with nature. Our initial plans were to be overseas as soon as possible, but we then opted to remain local, and really understand our product, and also then the various international markets. We finally feel like we’re ready to take this next step.

Also at the outset, we were adamant that our packaging was going to have a minimal footprint. We soon learned that this was very difficult to do with very little on the market suiting our needs, and those who had imported the required materials were only interested in servicing big clients, rather than help little guys get going. Fortunately, that has changed, and our packaging with it. For the first time we are pleased to offer compostable teabags in our range and our new Superior Range is 100% recyclable or biodegradable.

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