Rooibos tea, commonly called red tea is grown only on the Northwestern Cape of South Africa. Rooibos means "red bush", when the leaves of a rooibos bush are left to dry in the sun they turn bright red, hence the name red tea. Some people consider it the best herbal tea.
Rooibos has been used as herbal medicine for centuries by the Khoisan tribe of South Africa. However, it didn't reach the western world until 1904 when Benjamin Ginsberg began selling it world wide under the name Mountain Tea. In 1968 a South African named Annique Theron discovered roobios tea had a calming affect that helped cure her baby's vomiting and stomach cramps. She later published a book to share her findings with the world and went on to sell skin care products made of rooibos extract. In 1998 she was awarded "Woman discoverer of the year" by the World Intellectual Property Organization, and her discovery was given a gold medal for its anti-allergenic attributes.
The rooibos plant comes from the same plant family as peas and beans; it is quite different from the Camellia tea plants that are used to make classic teas. Specially adapt to growing in the dry, sandy soil of the Cedarburg region of South Africa, its unique roots grow up to 2 meters deep and it needs no fertilization or irrigation. In September rooibos plants bloom yellow flowers that produce tiny seeds which farmers collect for further tea cultivation.
Unlike conventional tea, African red tea is caffeine-free and contains less than half the tannin which gives traditional tea its bitter taste. Rooibos red tea also contains no colors, additives or preservatives.
Organic red tea is widely known for its myriad of health benefits. Studies show that it is very calming and helps prevent common ailments such as insomnia, headaches, irritability and hypertension. In South Africa it is commonly used to treat asthma, eczema and hay fever. It also has antioxidants which promote a healthy immune system and is even used to treat irritated skin. Studies of rooibos tea health benefits are on going and more and more are sure to be discovered.
How rooibos is served is a matter of personal preference. Beside the obvious traditional methods, it is also served iced and in wine. In South Africa it is usually consumed with milk and sugar. Taste wise it is naturally very sweet and has an almost woody flavor that goes very well with berries, mint & orange.
If you prefer flavored teas, there are a wide variety of red tea blends available for your enjoyment. It comes infused with vanilla, coconut, mint, lemon and endless other flavors. My personal favorite selection is the delicious vanilla variety. Rooibos mixed with other teas such as honeybush tea are also very common. It can also be found in liquid iced-tea form as well.
To ensure premium quality, it is best to buy rooibos tea or any other tea type for that matter, in loose-leaf form. When it comes to flavor, there is no comparison to loose-leaf tea. Bagged tea is very low quality and is usually just the dust from the bottom of the tea bin.
You can find a wide range of gourmet tea shops online. In my opinion buying online is simply the only way to buy tea. The selection of tea available online is quite extraordinary and a dream come true for tea connoisseurs worldwide. It's important to select a reputable tea shop, so check supplier sites for customer reviews and detailed information regarding the origins of their teas.
Red tea is as delicious as it is healthy, once you have your first taste you will be hooked. Enjoy!