At some point or another in your life, perhaps even at this very second while you’re pursuing the depths of internet articles in search of a beverage that will leave you feeling satisfied and refreshed, you’ve sat down with a hot freshly brewed cup of tea. You could be partial to the vegetal flavor of green tea, the richness of black tea, or the delicate taste that accompanies white tea. Or maybe you don’t have a preference and you’re simply looking to try something new.
The great news is: there’s always plenty of options when it comes to drinking tea, and a great way to explore the realm of tea and discover new favorites is to branch out into the world of herbal teas. This is where rooibos comes into the picture. Commonly referred to as red tea, this peculiar beverage will help to open your eyes to the varieties of different tea that exist. You may not have heard about rooibos before, but by the time you’re done reading it just might be your next go to hot drink on a day where you need a pick-me-up.
You’re probably wondering what I’m even talking about. If rooibos isn’t a tea, then why are we talking about rooibos right now? Why are we comparing it to the commonly known, widely consumed black and green teas? To explain the difference, you’re going to have to acquaint yourself with some scientific facts about the tea world you might not have knowledge of as a casual consumer.
Tea comes from one specific plant called the Camellia sinensis. This plant’s leaves are utilized in the making of popular black, green, white, and oolong tea varieties. What is referred to as an herbal tea is a brew made from a plant that is not the Camellia sinensis, emphasizing the difference between the two.
While many people think of herbal as exactly that - herbal tea - it is more of an herbal infusion. Since teas can only be derived from the Camellia sinensis, everything else that is referred to as a tea should actually be thought of as a tisane. This helps to diminish confusion about what can be classified as a tea and what technically cannot be.
Much like actual tea, tisanes have been consumed for thousands of years on account of their delicious flavors and medicinal qualities. Tisanes can be made from a combination of plant types, different parts of the same plant, and various other plant matter. They are naturally caffeine free and make for a great beverage when you need to wind down at the end of the day.
Rooibos comes from a plant native to the Cedarburg region of South Africa called the Aspalathus Linearis. It was enjoyed for centuries by the indigenous people of the region, who harvested the leaves of the plant due to the tea’s delightful flavor and the medical benefits it provided.
As the native population of the region started to dwindle over time, rooibos nearly vanished from the world. It was rediscovered in the late eighteenth century when Dutch settlers came to the area. The botanist Carl Humberg spread its popularity among other foreigners and rooibos began to shine outside of its homeland.
Later, in the early twentieth century, a Russian man with connections to tea manufacturing introduced the tea to the consumer world with even more passion. It was marketed as an herbal alternative to the traditional tea enjoyed by many around the globe. Referred to as a ‘Mountain Tea,’ rooibos began to gain more traction than it ever had before.
World War II served as the ultimate catalyst for the newly revered tea. There was difficulty in importing teas from Asian countries during this time due to the affairs of the war, so rooibos was turned to as a good alternative. It was more accessible since it was sourced from South Africa, but due to the scarcity of the plant seeds and the rising demand the price tag increased.
Even though more people were enjoying the tea, rooibos could not be procured by everyone because of its cost. This all changed a couple decades after the war in 1968 when Annique Theron, a South African businesswoman, published a book about the health benefits of rooibos. Demand for the tea skyrocketed as more studies were conducted to analyze the amazing healing qualities of rooibos.
Red rooibos is the type you will likely encounter at the supermarket. The name rooibos - literally meaning “red bush” - is derived from the color of the leaves on its plant of origin, the Aspalathus linearis. Once brewed, the color of the tea is a shade of rich red and its flavor profile is of a nutty, sweet variety.
Teas derived from the Camellia sinensis have tannins that leave you with a dry feeling in your mouth, known as astringency. Since rooibos is an herbal tea that comes from a different plant, it lacks the tannins that contribute to astringency and makes it a pleasant beverage for all tea consumers.
While red rooibos is made from leaves that are oxidized and fermented, green rooibos is made using leaves that are unfermented. Green rooibos is dried directly after it is harvested to preserve the flavor, color, and the antioxidants. This means that green rooibos has twice as many antioxidants as traditional rooibos, making it an alternative that is healthier for your body.
By inhibiting oxidation, green rooibos tea protects the cells in your body and decreases their susceptibility to damage. The amount of antioxidants green rooibos carries is due to a heating process that halts the oxidation that otherwise changes the chemical structure of tea, along with its color.
Beyond its health benefits, green rooibos has a delicate and enjoyable flavor that has only recently started to gain popularity. Since rooibos has been primarily consumed in its red form for many generations, green rooibos is a fairly new method of brewing that is steadily gaining recognition.
There are even studies that suggest green rooibos may have a better effect on inhibiting the growth of cancer cells than red rooibos. The benefits of this tea are bountiful, and they do not stop there.
Red and green rooibos both impact your health in positive ways, just as many other teas do. Rooibos is said to consist of having anti-inflammatory and antimutagenic effects. It protects your cells from suffering DNA damage and can help prevent an excessive buildup of fat within cells and organs.
However, the unique chemical structures of the two types means that they have different effects in what they do to benefit your body. Though red and green rooibos are both healthy choices in terms of drinks, green rooibos offers even more benefits to your well being than its counterpart.
The high antioxidant count in green rooibos makes it a special brew. Found excessively in green rooibos are two antioxidants, aspalathin and nothofagin, which both have beneficial impacts on your body.
Nothofagin is found in high amounts in green rooibos, and it may be used to help treat inflammation of the blood vessels in diabetics. Aspalathin is effective in mitigating the adverse effects of type 2 diabetes and obesity, since it helps to increase lipid and glucose metabolism.
There is also evidence that green rooibos can improve cardiovascular health in individuals who have a genetic disposition to heart problems. Some say that the antioxidants in green rooibos may even work to prevent neurodegenerative diseases, which is an amazing quality of the tea.
Rooibos is a flavorful, healthy choice of beverage that offers a myriad of beneficial effects on your health. Growing from a drink consumed by one specific population to a worldwide delicacy, rooibos has transformed the way people think about teas in association with their health.
Whether it is in its red or green form, a cup of rooibos will never disappoint. Try it for yourself and see if it’s your next favorite thing!