Rooibos 101: 10 surprising facts

Rooibos is one of SA’s most valued natural
treasures, but besides being a healthy
homegrown tea, how much do Mzansians
really know about it?


This Heritage Month, the SA Rooibos Council (SARC) has embarked on a campaign to create greater public awareness of Rooibos – where it comes from, what makes it so unique and how to become a true connoisseur.

Here are 10 surprising facts about Rooibos:

1. Location

Rooibos really only grows in the Cederberg region of the Western Cape. Although farmers have tried to grow it elsewhere in the world, the climate, soil and conditions just aren’t conducive, and we’d like to think that nature intended it that way.


2. Flowers

Did you know that every spring the Rooibos bush is covered in beautiful tiny yellow flowers, which after pollination, forms a seedpod with a single seed inside?

During spring, farmers are greeted by a field of yellow flowers growing on the bush, which carry the next generation of Aspalathus Linearis – the botanical name for Rooibos.

3. Seeds

Firstly, have you ever seen a Rooibos seed? They are tiny and are sown between February and March each year. It takes roughly about 18 months before the bush can be harvested for the first time.

Collecting these seeds can be tricky as they spontaneously burst out when ripe. In the olden days seeds were collected from anthills as ants harvested the seeds. These days, farmers collect the seeds by sifting the sand around the plants.


4. Purity

The purity of Rooibos is also a tightly controlled process. From the time the crop is harvested to when it is pasteurised, various tests are conducted to guarantee that every single cup (no matter which brand you drink) is 100% pure.


5. Processing

Once the crop has been harvested, it is cut to lengths of between 1.5mm and 5mm. The cuttings are then bruised and moistened to 60% after which fermentation takes place (fermentation is defined as enzymatic oxidation) for 8 to 12 hours at a temperature of between 34°C – 38°C. During this process the characteristic aroma and red colour develops. Rooibos is then spread thinly on concrete drying yards to dry. Once this process is complete, the tea is sorted and graded by length, colour, flavour and taste before being pasteurised by steam.

6. Grading

There are several different Rooibos grades. For example, the superior long cut’ is ideal for blending with pieces of fruit and flowers. While, an ‘extra fine cut’ lends itself for use in confectionary and espressos. A ‘super cut’ is mostly used in a standard Rooibos tea bag, which makes the tea softer in taste and helps to release more active substances in the cup.

7. Health benefits

Each cup of  tea is packed with healthy flavonoids, including aspalathin – a powerful antioxidant unique to the plant. It is also caffeine-free, low in tannins and contains no fat or proteins and is therefore kilojoule-free. Up to six cups can be enjoyed daily.


8. Appearance

It grows up to 1.5 m in height and has thin branches that carry bright green, needle-like leaves. And, like the people of our country, it is a hardy shrub that can survive the toughest of conditions.

9. GI Status

In 2014, Rooibos received geographical indicator (GI) status,. This means that tea can only be called Rooibos if it comes from a defined area in the Cederberg and surrounds. It’s a proudly South African product, which is exported to more than 30 countries across the globe.

10. Heritage

This year, Rooibos tea celebrates its 115th anniversary as a branded product! The first Rooibos brand was launched by Benjamin Ginsberg from his general dealer shop in Clanwilliam and is still sold today.

Nicie Vorster, spokesperson for the SARC says for generations, Rooibos tea has been a favourite among South Africans.  It remains an important economic resource for the country.

As a way to preserve the culture and heritage of Rooibos, he encourages everyone to become more intimately acquainted with this national treasure. This Heritage Month make a point of visiting the Cederberg – the heartland of Rooibos – where it’s history and culture really come to life!

To learn more about Rooibos this Heritage Month, visit

Why not check out this local brand for a special tea set?

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