I love the fact that the tea that’s generating so much excitement these days —Rooibos— isn’t technically a “tea” at all… in the sense that it is not made from the leaf of the Camellia sinensis plant.
The Rooibos plant actually belongs to the legume family (Fabaceae), meaning it’s botanically related to beans. No wonder an herbal Rooibos tisane is sometimes referred to as a “coffee-drinker’s tea”. It’s robust, hearty and earthy, and hip-minded cafés now offer Rooibos in coffee-inspired concoctions, like “lattes” and “espressos”, made coffee-free and caffeine-free with Rooibos instead of the obvious. But unlike the coffee-originals, Rooibos is naturally sweet, with a creamy-vanilla aroma top note that’s straight from the earth.
The plant’s name is Afrikaans, the Dutch idiom spoken in South Africa—it means “red bush”, which is another common name for this plant. The bush is grown exclusively in the Cedarberg Mountain region of Cape Town, South Africa. European colonists who emigrated to the Cape in the early 20th century initially took an interest in this rugged, shrubby plant because tariffs on Asian teas were, pardon the pun, steep. The local Khoi-Khoi people had been brewing and drinking the fine, needle-like leaves for centuries (they loved it so much that they collected the precious seeds from anthills!), so the new arrivals decided to join them.
One of the reasons that Rooibos is a modern-day success story for South Africa is that bean-connection. Legumes are “nitrogen-fixing”, meaning that they minimize the need for fertilizer in low pH, less-than-rich soil. For instance, when growing other veggies, many farmers plant rows upon rows of Fava beans for this reason alone. This make Rooibos economical to grow, and also reduces its planetary footprint, since it does not require heavy ag-chemicals in the form of fertilizers. The bio-efficiency of Rooibos as a crop creates a dynamic basis for both Organic and Fair Trade growing and harvesting practices.
Generations of indigenous Africans used Rooibos as a soothing bath, especially for babies, and anyone with rashy, irritated skin. These soothing properties, according to their traditional beliefs, also eased insomnia and headaches when the plant was brewed and sipped.
Today, Rooibos is enjoying renewed popularity as a topical ingredient in modern skin care formulations. Research is currently underway to establish its other health benefits. For now, there is no arguing that a cup of Art of Tea Rooibos, or Art of Tea’s headier Rooibos Chai (infused with a spice-route of Organic Cloves, Cardamom, Cinnamon and Ginger) refreshes and satisfies, from the first gorgeously-transparent red sip, until the pot runs dry.