What is Rooibos tea, what does it taste like, why does everyone seem to be talking about it right now and is it really as healthy as they claim? This caffeine-free black tea alternative certainly has a lot of promise, but with talk of Rooibos, Honeybush, red tea and many more varieties, there is also some confusion that needs to be addressed, so let’s see if we can shed some light on this tea.
History of Red Tea
The consumption of black tea, green tea and white tea goes back thousands of years. The history of red tea is probably not as ancient, but it has been consumed for at least a few hundred years.
Consumption of red tea was first described in literature about 250 years ago when a Swedish naturalist wrote about local communities in South Africa who would climb mountains to harvest the needles of a red bush before drying them under the sun in a process similar to modern oxidisation.
The tea cultivated by those local communities was probably a close cousin of Rooibos and honeybush and as its use was so ingrained in these societies it’s safe to assume that they had been harvesting and consuming it for many years prior to this.
At the turn of the 20th century it was being manufactured by a Russian immigrant who sold it as a healthy, herbal alternative to black tea. During the war years, when supplies of black tea were cut short, it began to increase in popularity, but it was still considered a niche product and was expensive as a result. It wasn’t until the 1960s and the release of a book that hailed Rooibos as a healthy drink that it really started to take off. Once the ground work was laid then the studies began, the promising results followed and the world began to take notice.
What is Red Tea?
Red tea is typically used to denote two types of tea: Honeybush and Rooibos. Both of these are grown in South Africa and can be brewed into hot tea and iced tea drinks. As with other forms of tea they both come loaded with healthy antioxidants, as well as minerals.
Red teas are harvested from plants in the legume family, which means they are more closely related to peas and peanuts than they are to black, green and white tea. As with black tea, red tea is produced following an oxidation of harvested leaves. These leaves are also sold fresh as green tea, but the process required to make this tea is expensive and time consuming and the benefits of consuming the end product may not be as many.
What is Rooibos Tea?
Rooibos tea is the tea more commonly referred to as “red tea”. It has much lower tannin levels than black or green tea and the higher quality Rooibos teas will produce a liquid that is darker in color and richer in flavor than the cheaper, lower quality varieties.
What is Honeybush Tea?
Honeybush is closely related to Rooibos and also grows in South Africa. It has a similar taste and similar health benefits. It is also caffeine free.
Honeybush is often used in combination with Rooibos as it helps to bring out the sweetness of the tea and has more of a rounded flavor. Honeybush actually takes its name from the fact that it smells like honey. It’s easy to drink unsweetened and is particularly enjoyable when added to Rooibos, just don’t expect it to taste like honey—it’s still a plant, it’s still very low in calories.
Honeybush vs Rooibos: Health Benefits
Both of these teas are loaded with antioxidants and are very good for you. They both taste a little like a black tea, not unlike a mild Earl Grey, (which we’ll get to next) but they are much lower in tannins, which is why they can be brewed for longer without being bitter.
Honeybush and Rooibos can improve heart health thanks to their high concentrations of flavones like Chryseriol. Their high antioxidant content also makes them a powerful weapon in the fight against cancer, which can be said for most types of tea.
The phenylpyruvic acid in red tea may help with skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema and the tea is also said to promote feeling of calm and contentment, which in turn could help patients suffering from anxiety, depression and insomnia. These changes are slight, of course. If red tea was a powerful anti-anxiety drug then we wouldn’t need strong prescription medications. However, while it’s not going to provide you with a miraculous cure, it can help to restore balance in your mind and body and when consumed as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle it can make a noticeable difference.
One of the main health benefits of red tea, both in the form of Honeybush and Rooibos, is the fact that it is naturally caffeine free. This means that it can be consumed by people who are sensitive or allergic to caffeine, providing them with many of the benefits they would get from black tea, but in a form that they can safely consume. It also allows regular black tea drinkers to keep drinking throughout the day as they can switch from black to red on an evening to avoid consuming stimulants before they go to bed.
What Does Rooibos Tea Taste Like?
The taste of Rooibos tea is not too dissimilar to black tea. If you like your black tea strong then you will want to brew your red tea for longer than the instructions state and you may want to add a little extra as it can taste like a weak black tea at times, albeit one with more fragrant undertones and one that is lacking in the intensity and complexity of black tea.
It’s the sort of drink that you will instantly take to if you’re a seasoned black tea drinker and one that may even appeal to green tea drinkers who are not big lovers of black tea (although they will likely want to follow the instructions to the letter). If you’re not a fan of black tea or green tea and you see red tea as an option that is better than both and gives you a way to incorporate tea into your diet, then think again.
Make no mistake about it, red tea is for tea drinkers.
How to Make Rooibos Tea
To enjoy Rooibos tea at its best you should purchase some loose tea. Teabags don’t always represent the best of the tea and because the customer can’t see the product in the bag manufacturers often use lower quality “tea dust”. Rooibos is very fine tea, much more so than loose leaf black tea, so it tends to brew quickly and easily and should therefore always be purchased as a loose tea.
You can use 1 heaped teaspoon and a brewing time of 5 to 7 minutes or 2 heaped teaspoons and a brewing time of 2 to 3 minutes. Just bowl the kettle, add the Rooibos to a strainer, pour the water over it and then wait, bearing in mind that because its such a fine tea, a few leaves will likely break free from the strainer and stay in the drink.
Once it’s brewed you can sweeten and add milk just like you would with black tea. If you drink your tea with milk and 2 sugars, do the same here. If you prefer it black, then don’t add sugar or milk. Simple as that. Red tea is not one of those herbal teas that should only be drunk without milk—it actually works really well with a dash.
Iced Tea from Rooibos
To make iced tea from Rooibos you can follow the same steps as above, minus the milk, and then leave it to cool. You won’t be in any rush to brew quickly so use 4 to 5 teaspoons and 10 minutes of brewing time for 1 liter of water. When it has brewed you can add your sugar, stir until it has dissolved and then wait for it to cool down. Once it has cooled, throw in some ice and then serve, adding a garnish of lemon or lime for a little more freshness.