The plant is used to make a herbal tea called rooibos tea, bush tea (esp. southern Africa), redbush tea (esp. UK), South African red tea (esp. USA), or red tea. The product has been popular in southern Africa for generations and is now consumed in many countries. It is sometimes spelled rooibosch in accordance with the Dutch etymology, but “roy-boss” remains the most common modern pronunciation.
Rooibos is grown only in a small area in the Cederberg region of the Western Cape province. Generally, the leaves are oxidized, a process often, and inaccurately, referred to as fermentation by analogy with tea-processing terminology. This process produces the distinctive reddish-brown colour of rooibos and enhances the flavor. Unoxidised “green” rooibos is also produced, but the more demanding production process for green rooibos (similar to the method by which Green Tea is produced) makes it more expensive than traditional rooibos
In South Africa it is more common to drink rooibos with milk and sugar, but elsewhere it is usually served without. The flavor of rooibos tea is often described as being sweet (without sugar added) and slightly nutty. Rooibos can be prepared in the same manner as Black Tea, and this is the most common method. Unlike black tea, however, rooibos does not become bitter when steeped for a long time; some households leave the tea to steep for days at a time. Rooibos tea is a reddish brown colour, explaining why rooibos is sometimes referred to as “red tea”.
Several coffee shops in South Africa have recently begun to sell Red Espresso, which is concentrated rooibos served and presented in the style of ordinary espresso (which is normally coffee-based). This has given rise to rooibos-based variations of coffee drinks such as red lattes and red cappuccinos. Iced tea made from rooibos has recently been introduced in South Africa as well, and in Australia as Lipton “Red Tea, Rooibos & Guarana”.
Nutritional and health benefits
Rooibos is becoming more popular in Western countries particularly among health-conscious consumers, due to its high level of antioxidants such as aspalathin and nothofagin, its lack of caffeine, and its low tannin levels compared to fully oxidized black tea or unoxidized green tea leaves.
“Green” rooibos (see above) has a higher antioxidant capacity than fully oxidized rooibos.