Mmmm… Delicate, naturally sweet rooibos. Its number of fans is growing every day, but do we really know what it is or where is comes from?
What is rooibos?
If you open a rooibos blend, you will immediately recognize it thanks it its fine, needle-like leaves. As it happens, rooibos (the name literally means “red bush” in Afrikaans) is a plant in the acacia family. Its leaves are similar to pine needles and its little yellow flowers are much like those of broom shrubs. Growing between three and seven feet tall, this distinctive bush is only found in South Africa. This is the only country with suitable soil, and harvests are carried out from January through March – this hemisphere’s summer season! The leaves are left in the open air and sprayed with water before drying out in the sun.
After infusing, rooibos liquor takes on a magnificent magenta color much like hibiscus. Drinkers in certain Western countries actually call it “red tea,” but this is incorrect! It is not in fact a tea, although both beverages are prepared and consumed in similar ways. Rooibos is free from caffeine and also has a low concentration of tannins. This means it can be enjoyed by the whole family. Children and adults alike adore its sweet hazelnut notes and the fact they can indulge at any time of the day!
How do you drink it?
Rooibos infusions are delicious hot or cold. Some prefer a natural version with just the leaves, perhaps topped off with citrus zests or cinnamon. Others will opt for fruity or spicy blends to vary the pleasure. In South Africa, where rooibos is king, the infusion is often served with a drop of milk and a little sugar. You can choose the infusion time – even up to ten minutes – as the lack of tannins means there is no bitter taste.
We already said rooibos is a plant endemic to South Africa, and the country produces several million tons of it per year. But more specifically, rooibos is grown in the Cederberg Wilderness Area, a nature reserve around two hours’ drive north of Cape Town. If you get the chance to visit this land of countless treasures, take a trip to this majestic, craggy mountain range! The Cederberg reserve (literally meaning “mountain of cedars,” despite the fact cypress trees are more common) has protected Unesco World Heritage status. You can of course visit the rooibos plantations, but also discover a whole host of other wonders.
Get ready for a setting reigned over by nature. A place where the silence and authenticity of wide-open spaces invites visitors to go back to basics and enjoy the present. Vineyards and valleys of lemon and orange trees stretch as far as the eye can see. Winding paths snake alongside caves decorated with paintings created thousands of years ago by the Sans People, a native South African tribe. The ideal spot to take full advantage of the region’s exceptional fauna and flora.
One last recommendation: stop by the picturesque old town of Clanwilliam, the rooibos capital, to taste one of their infusions!