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March 01, 2005

Rooibos

rooibus_t.jpgFirst had rooibos tea when I was in Capetown. It was apparently "discovered" in 1904 by one Benjamin Ginsberg, a Jewish immigrant from Russia, who saw the Khoisan people (popularly known as the Bushman) making tea from a wild bush that grows in the Cedarberg Mountains. The color is identical to orange pecoe and the tea is delicious and supposed to be very healthy. It is my current favorite. This brand is from English Tea Store. Here is the story:

"Technically, Rooibos is not a true tea. It comes from the plant Aspalathus Linearis, rather than the Camellia plants that produce traditional teas. The name Rooibos comes from the African slang for the Dutch words for 'red bush'.

The Rooibos plant is a small shrubby bush that only grows in South Africa. The bush grows anywhere from 1/2 to 1 metre in height, with very thin, needle-like leaves. The leaves are green, but turn the characteristic red after fermentation.

The Rooibos seeds are precious, because the plants produce few of them. The seeds also pop out of the fruits as soon as they are ripe, making harvest difficult. Many farmers still raid anthills looking for Rooibos seeds.

It is a rather delicate plant, and the cultivation has not changed much over the years. The plants thrive best when left along in their natural soil. The farming of Rooibos has always been very close to nature and remains so today.

The locals have known that Rooibos can be used to make a delicious beverage for a very long time, but it was only 'discovered' in 1904 by a Russian immigrant named Benjamin Ginsberg. He was a settler in the area and thought that the tea was so enjoyable that it should be available to people everywhere. He was the first to market Rooibos tea."

Here is the full story.

"More than 300 years ago, indigenous inhabitants of the mountainous regions of South Africa’s Western Cape were the first to collect wild rooibos and use it to make tea. These people discovered that they could brew a sweet, tasty tea from rooibos leaves and stems that they cut, bruised with wooden hammers, fermented in heaps, and then sun-dried. Botanists first recorded rooibos plants in 1772 when they were introduced to the tea by the Khoi people.

Rooibos became a cultivated crop by the early 1930s, has been grown commercially since World War II, and now is exported to countries worldwide, including Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, England, Malaysia, South Korea, Poland, China, and the United States...

The harvested rooibos is processed two different ways, producing two types of tea. The green leaves and stems are either bruised and fermented or immediately dried to prevent oxidation. The traditional fermented tea is processed today in much the same way as the indigenous people processed it hundreds of years ago, including the sun-drying step, but the tools are more sophisticated now.

The fermented type is called red tea because fermentation turns the leaves and the resulting tea a rich orange/red color; this distinctive color led to the Afrikaans name rooibos, which means "red bush." The unfermented type, often called green rooibos, contains higher levels of polyphenol antioxidants because fermented rooibos loses some antioxidants during the fermentation process. The unfermented type was developed to maximize antioxidant levels in response to recent interest in the health benefits associated with the antioxidants found in C. sinensis teas. Unfermented rooibos tea is a tan/yellow color rather than the rich reddish color of fermented rooibos."

Posted by BKG at March 1, 2005 11:04 PM

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