Origin & Ingredients
Rooibos, also known as red bush, is perhaps the most tea-like and naturally caffeine-free beverage in the world. During the 20th Century, red bush went from being a mostly indigenous drink of South Africa to a global commodity and a cash crop for the Clanwilliam district. Rooibos is also known to be high in antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins.
Similar to tea, rooibos generally undergoes an oxidation process after the leaves are cut, when it develops a uniquely sweet and creamy flavor, without the astringency of black tea. It is a common alternative to coffee or tea because it also stands up well to milk and sugar and can be served in various forms quite easily (hot, iced, lattes, etc.). Rooibos can also be steamed after being picked to stop the oxidation process, which will keep it as green rooibos, a more vegetal and floral flavor than the more common red rooibos.
Rooibos grows about 250 km north of Cape Town near the South African town of Clanwilliam. From mid-January to April, when the plants are about 3 feet tall, the topmost tender leaves are hand-harvested, machine-cut and allowed to oxidize in the sun.
We became acquainted to rooibos through our long-time friend and mentor Hugh Lamond. Hugh introduced rooibos, and honeybush, to many in the tea trade. Steve and Hugh spent time together in the fields and factories in South Africa, tasting different batches grown in different areas to determine what we like best.
Rooibos has vanilla and wood features, with notes of caramelized sugar. Many rooibos teas on the market today delve further into its vanilla flavor and thus it is common to see vanilla rooibos blends or recipes. With a natural sweetness, rooibos can be used in a variety of ways within the culinary world. One can even find rooibos liquor in South Africa as well.
Rooibos is a very forgiving infusion. It can be brewed at different concentrations without becoming bitter or losing flavor. Here at Smith, we’ve used it with ice cream, lattes, syrups, and others. If you are looking to emulate Tony’s homemade syrup (recipe withheld), he recommends sweetening with agave, not honey and going with hazelnut or cardamom instead of vanilla.
To get started, check out our Red Nectar recipes, which features the Cederberg Coconut Cappuccino and a Rooibos Macchiato.
In Our Teas
Steve’s relationship with rooibos dates back to his days while at the helm of Tazo. Being a favorite herbal infusion, it only made sense to create a rooibos blend for Smith Teamaker. Red Nectar is a blend that is mostly rooibos. That almost honey-like floral quality of rooibos lent itself very well in a blend with honeybush, green rooibos, and French peach skin. There is a distinct peach flavor profile when combined with the honeybush and green rooibos, and the French peach skin elicits the fruity orchard-like top notes of the blend.
We also are inclined to use rooibos in other blends because of its roundness and color. For example, rooibos plays a part in Meadow, our chamomile blend, and provides center and body to go along with some color in the cup.