The 300-year-old rooibos (pronounced “roy-boss”) plant is just a baby compared to the 1,000-plus-year-old Camellia sinensis plant that yields what we know as black and green tea.
Rooibos is an herb native to South Africa that isn’t even a true “tea” at all. Rather, it’s a plant that when harvested and dried can be brewed into a reddish-brown herbal infusion dubbed “African red tea” or “red bush tea” by the tea industry.
When harvested, the bushy rooibos plant is cut by hand and its stems and leaves are bound into bundles. The bundles are sorted and then cut or bruised to encourage oxidation. Oxidation, or exposure to oxygen, is what brings out the plant’s essential oils and helps the leaves develop their rich colour and flavour. The more oxidized the rooibos, the redder in colour and sweeter and richer in flavour it becomes. This is the version we know as red rooibos. A less oxidized rooibos is steamed and dried immediately instead of oxidized, so it remains slightly green in colour and retains a grassy, mineral-like flavour. This less oxidized version is called green rooibos.
Taste the brewed rooibos after the recommended infusion time (we steep our Niks Tea rooibos for 4 to 5 minutes) and then decide if you’d like it to go a little longer. Unlike a traditional black or green tea, rooibos won’t get more astringent and bitter the longer it’s infused in hot water; it will just get stronger and more flavourful.