Rooibos Tea: A Taste of Africa

Rooibos tea is made from the leaves of a shrub-like plant known as Aspalathus linearis which is native only to South Africa. When brewed, this naturally caffeine-free tea produces an amber colour with a refreshing, nutty and full-bodied taste and a sweet aroma.

The Rooibos Plant

The Rooibos (pronounced as ‘Roy-Boss’) plant is grown mostly in the Cederberg and Sandveld areas of the Western Cape and the Bokkeveld area of the Northern Cape in South Africa. It grows in very specific and very harsh conditions – very low rainfall, sandy, slightly acidic soil and temperature fluctuations that can range from zero degrees Celsius in winter months up to forty-five degrees. No irrigation is used on the Rooibos plant and this hardy dry land crop is often subjected to drought conditions. The survival mechanism of this plant is its tap root that digs down 3m or more into the well-drained, cool and sandy soil. In early spring the plant blooms with yellow-coloured flowers.

The Rooibos Plantation

The seeds of the Rooibos plant are planted in well-prepared seabeds towards the end of the summer period. In the winter months of June and August the seedlings, which have now grown to a height of 10-20 cm, are transplanted into plantations in neat rows.

Rooibos plants take about 18 months to go from seedling to harvest-ready. The average lifespan of the plant is 6 years.

Rooibos at a glance

• Rooibos provides income and employment to approximately 8000 farm labourers in South Africa
• Global consumption of Rooibos was 15 million kg in 2015
• It is exported to more than 30 countries
• The plant is a dryland crop and production varies according to the amount of rainfall

The production process

The plant is harvested only once per year, during the summer months, by cutting the branches 30-40 cm above the ground.

The cuttings are neatly bound into bundles and transported to the processing yards.  Upon arrival the sheaves are fed into a machine which cuts the needle–like leaves into even lengths.  These are then passed between two rollers which bruise the leaves and trigger the oxidation process.

Oxidation

Oxidation, or exposure to oxygen, is the process that brings out the plant’s essential oils and helps the leaves develop their rich colour and flavour. After rolling, the Roobois leaves are spread out in an open yard and left to dry under the sun. The fermentation and drying process takes 24-48 hours. After drying, the Rooibos is collected from the open yards and taken back to the processing plant for grading.

 

Images used by permission of Rooibos Ltd