By: Andrea Graham
Like many people that are told to stay away from caffeine, when I became pregnant it didn’t take me long to become excruciatingly bored with my beverage choices. I was a tea drinker and my doctor insisted on only 1 cup a day. My mainstay beverage became a once-a-day treat. Juice and caffeine-free soda were too sweet and calorie ridden, the herbals I’d tried up to that point didn’t satisfy me, and I was sick of just water. I turned to decaf tea and then learned that the chemical process used to decaffeinate many drinks was probably worse for me than the caffeine. Some time after my struggle to replace tea in my life, I found out about rooibos.
Rooibos is a delicious and healthy herbal tisane (tea) that has only recently gained popularity in the U.S., but has been widely consumed in its native South Africa for hundreds of years. A friend’s mother grew up in rural South Africa where rooibos is a mainstay beginning with the bottle. For years, she had loose leaf rooibos sent to her from her homeland, but now can find it in specialty supermarkets and from tea purveyors. It certainly has taken awhile, but Americans have found out about this versatile and unique beverage.
Rooibos which means “Red Bush” in Afrikaans was first harvested by the indigenous people of South Africa’s Western Cape about 300 years ago. The plant was harvested, bruised, fermented, and finally dried in the sun. The world’s only supply of Rooibos comes from the Cedarburg area of South Africa where it originates and where the locals swear by its healthy properties.
While a great deal of the evidence for the health benefits of rooibos are still anecdotal, researchers are beginning to uncover some truly interesting evidence to support the health conscious pursuit of rooibos. It does contain flavanoids that can be used to treat skin and circulatory disorders and recent studies indicate it may relieve insomnia, irritability, headaches, nervous tension, and hypertension. In South Africa, it has commonly been used for colic in infants and stomach cramps in adults. Research supported this usage by showing that Rooibos has anti-spasmodic agents. While not enough to meet your daily requirements, the compounds, copper, iron, potassium calcium fluoride, zinc, manganese, alpha-hydroxy, and magnesium are also components of this herbal tea.
Rooibos infuses into a red/orange color with a smooth subtle sweet nutty flavor profile that can be similar to black tea. Unlike true tea (camellia), however, rooibos is low in tannins which makes it less astringent, and so a good choice for those that prefer a smooth, mild taste. Refreshing iced and soothing hot, rooibos is delicious alone or a treat when sweetened. Because of its smooth taste, rooibos is a versatile ingredient in herbal blends. Popular blends include fruit flavored rooibos and warm spicy rooibos, including a marvelous chai. For those looking for an alternative to caffeinated or sugar laden beverages, rooibos offers a starting point for many flavorful and interesting drinks.
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The first time I tried chai was in the kitchen of my parent’s house, and served by my younger sister. “You have to taste this—” she insisted, pushing a mug across the countertop to me. She refused to elaborate on its contents. The flavors, she said, would speak for themselves.
The quality of water affects the taste of your tea; this is beyond dispute. The relative quantities of mineral salts, oxygen and trace elements determine the relative "liveliness" or "flatness" of a particular cup. To that simple substance we add the basic flavor of the leaf itself or an herbal substitute.