20 August 2014 by Lynnette Johns

Rooibos tea – proudly South African

Rooibos tea is uniquely South African and was discovered in the beautiful Cederberg in the Western Cape by Khoi and San people more than 300 years ago. The tea, which is classified as a herb, was harvested and the spiky leaves were bruised and left in heaps in the sun to ferment. After fermenting the tea was ready to be brewed.

Rooibos tea is free from caffeine, sugar, fat, preservatives and colourants. Image courtesy of max_thinks_sees

Rooibos has many uses and health benefits. Initially only sold in South Africa, over the years it has grown in popularity across the world.

South Africans prefer their brewed rooibos without milk, and sweeten it with sugar or honey.

Besides being an aromatic hot beverage, rooibos has a number of health benefits, including the treatment of skin conditions, and is high in anti-oxidants.

Rooibos is used in soaps, beauty products and as an ingredient in food, either replacing an ingredient or complementing it.

Rooibos has many health benefits. image courtesy of Mr.TinDC

A few years ago, in a world first, a system was developed to create red espresso, making rooibos the only tea to be turned into an espresso.

There have been many attempts to trademark the name rooibos and to grow it outside of the Western Cape, but South Africa recently won geographic indicator status in an agreement with the European Union to protect rooibos.

According to the European Union, 'the status covers agricultural products and foodstuffs closely linked to the geographical area. At least one of the stages of production, processing or preparation takes place in the area.'

South Africa’s Trade and Industry Minister, Rob Davies, is quoted in the media as saying: 'It will be the rooibos tea manufacturers of South Africa [who] will have ownership of that particular name and that term will be applicable only to products [that] come from and are approved by us.'

Rooibos needs a dry climate and rocky terrain like the Cederberg to grow. The tea is still harvested in much the same way as it was when the Khoi and San brewed it.

The South African Rooibos Council says the deep amber colour is developed during fermentation, which brings out the natural enzymes in the plant.

The tea is graded according to colour, flavour and cut length.

The beautiful Cederberg. Image courtesy of Scott Ramsay

The Cederberg's hot and dry summers, winter rainfall and coarse, sandy soil are ideally suited to the rooibos plant. The region's rock art heritage, geology and biodiversity attract scientists from all over the world. It is also a popular adventure sport and eco-tourism destination.

Rooibos is grown in Clanwilliam, Graafwater, Citrusdal, Van Rhynsdorp, Nieuwoudtville and Wupperthal.

The Cederberg has a rich Khoisan history and you can still see rock art in the mountains. Beside growing rooibos, eco-tourism is one of the main economic drivers in the region.

Hikers often trek to view the scenic Wolfberg Arch, Wolfberg Crack and the Maltese Cross.

The area is also home to an amateur astronomical observatory, which regularly hosts open evenings.

The Wolfberg arch. Image courtesy of Scott Ramsay  

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Category: Culture & History, Food & Wine, Health & Wellness

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