What is rooibos?

What is rooibos?

Rooibos also known as Aspalathus linearis, pronounced “Roy-boss’’  is a South African plant.  Rooibos is a herbal tea or tisane because of its red-coloured leaves.  The name rooibos means “red bush” in Afrikaans.  Rooibos is a member of the Fabaceae, legume family, meaning it’s a relative of the peas and beans family.


Where is it found?
Rooibos naturally grows wild in the fynbos ecoregion of South Africa.  Rooibos only grows in the Cederberg region.  The Cederberg is a pristine wilderness with breathtaking rock formations, three hours north of Cape Town.  It is the unique combination of hot summers, cool winters, and well-drained sandy soil that allows rooibos to flourish only here, and nowhere else in the world.  Traditionally, indigenous people from the Khoisan group, including Bushmen and San people, would climb hills or mountains to harvest leaves from the wild rooibos plants.  The leaves were used as herbal remedies for many ailments as well as for their delicious, aromatic taste.  This area is home to over 5 000 different plant species, including rooibos.  Due to the growing popularity of rooibos tea around the world, the cultivation of domesticated rooibos for export has overtaken wild harvesting.  The Cederberg is famous for its production of rooibos tea.  Read more about harvesting in the Cederberg mountains here.


Cederberg mountains where the rooibos plant is grown


What is it made of?
Unlike tea or coffee, rooibos does not contain caffeine, meaning it is suitable for children and pregnant women.  This red drink contains rare antioxidants and  has very little tannins.  There are two types of Rooibos - red and green. Although made from the same plant, the difference is due to the difference in processing methods.  The process includes fermentation, which creates the deep red colour associated with the drink.  In contrast, green Rooibos is not fermented, but rather steamed to preserve the light colour and flavour.   The leaves of the rooibos plant are actually green.  It is the process of oxidation that turns them into that dark, deep red colour - the same thing happens when you take a bite out of an apple.


                                                  Red Rooibos tea 

                                               Green Rooibos tea


What does it taste like?
Despite the intense red colour of rooibos tea, its flavours are gentle and smooth.  It's mildly sweet and smooth.  People describe rooibos as nutty yet slightly floral.  Longer steeps however can bring out the full bodied, rich, woody notes.  It also makes great ice teas and is used in some cocktails.  See this post for one of our recipes.


Did you know?
  • While the early tea drinking Dutch settlers of South Africa popularized the brewing of rooibos in the 1700s as an alternative to the more expensive, imported black tea of the time, rooibos as a commercial tea crop didn’t evolve until the 1930s.  This plant continues to evolve to this day.


  • Rooibos is graded according to its colour, flavour and cut length.
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