Rooibos loose leaf 1 lb. $16.00

Rooibos tea bags in cylinder 30 tea bags $9.00

Rooibos (pronounced Roy-Boss) is the national tea of South Africa. Harvested from a small shrub native to the Cedarburg Mountains above the Cape of Good Hope, Organic Rooibos provides an amazing array of nutritional and holistic health benefits, most notably its high concentrations of antioxidants. It is caffeine-free and naturally sweet. Its deep red body is unique among the herbal teas of the world.

To learn more, read: "Rooibos: The Red Tea" by Anita MacAuley (Reprinted from the December 2000 issue of Fresh Cup Magazine)

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevenmt, or cure any disease.

Reprinted from the December 2000 issue of Fresh Cup Magazine, a monthly publication for the specialty coffee and tea industries. For more information, visit www.freshcup.com.

You might call it the unsung herb. Slipped into cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon, it creates full-bodied, caffeine-free chai. Blended with herbs and flowers, it showcases a sweet, deeply aromatic potion. Though the average American tea drinker can't easily find this herb on the supermarket shelf, it has long played a supporting role in brands like Good Earth, Celestial Seasonings and Seelect.
     To most of the world, rooibos, or the red tea, a beverage derived from a hardy, shrub-like plant native to South Africa, is nothing new. Drunk straight up in South Africa-often in a clear glass to view its jewel-red tones-rooibos already enjoys a strong following in Europe. Germany receives over half of South Africa's exports, and in Britain, it is available in nearly every health food store.
     With a body like black tea's, as many antioxidants as green tea, and the versatility of the best herbals, some say that rooibos is overdue for an American debut.

A beverage that has gained "national drink" status in its country of origin, rooibos (pronounced "roy boss") has been slow to catch on in the United States. Arend Redelinghuys, marketing manager for Rooibos Ltd., South Africa's largest rooibos grower co-op, says locals are actually raised on the drink.
     As the story goes, awareness of its calming properties took root in the late 1960s, when Annique Theron, the mother of a child suffering from colic, discovered that adding rooibos tea to milk had a soothing effect on the child. But the origins of rooibos's use go back much further than the '60s.
     The San tribe of South Africa-an ancient tribe that has been entirely assimilated into the cultural stew-is said to have used the herb for medicinal purposes. Benjamin Ginsberg, a Russian immigrant, is widely credited with pioneering curing and packaging methods early in the 20th century.
     Coming from a family of tea growers in Russia, Ginsberg saw enormous potential in the concentrated brew that he discovered Dutch farmers drinking in place of Ceylon tea. Just before WWI, his son, Charles Ginsberg started what is today considered the "heritage" rooibos brand, Eleven O'Clock Rooibosch Tea.
     Production levels in South Africa grew steadily through WWII, when Ceylon tea was in short supply. The market collapsed after the war ended, leading to the formation of the Clanwilliam Tea Cooperative in 1948, whose aim was to overcome marketing struggles. In 1954, the cooperative became The Tea Control Board. Its goals were regulating marketing, stabilizing prices and standardizing quality.
     Rooibos Ltd. grew out of the governmental Tea Control Board. In 1993, the board privatized, becoming only the second agricultural board to do so in South Africa. Today, Rooibos Ltd. comprises more than 350 growers and is predominately producer-owned, with a market share of 95 percent.
     Since people began to learn of rooibos's medicinal benefits, the number of rooibos products available in South Africa has multiplied. It's a popular ingredient in cosmetics. Its deep ruby hue has led to its use as a food-coloring agent and as a base for soups, baked goods and juices. It is also increasingly used in baby foods and other baby products. Iced teas, which have only been on the market in South Africa for a couple of years, also contain rooibos extract.
     One of the reasons rooibos is so little-known in the U.S. is because of the sanctions on all South African products during years of Apartheid. Rooibos's availability in the American market has been growing since 1993, when the U.S. Comprehensive Antiapartheid Act (CAAA) was repealed and sanctions on South African products were lifted. With trade routes open, and awareness of its health benefits on the rise, some would say American consumers are primed for a red tea.

Health Properties
If and when rooibos becomes a household word in the U.S., people may be unable to ignore the red tea's health benefits. With a resume as buff as green tea's, it's also said to pack a mineral punch, containing iron, potassium, calcium, copper, zinc, manganese, and sodium. Rooibos, unlike wine, is low in tannins, which are said to inhibit the absorption of protein and iron.
     Perhaps its most promising health-promoting property, however, is super oxide dismutase, a powerful antioxidant.
     An unpublished study called "Rooibos Tea as an Anti-Aging Beverage" was conducted at the Institute for Medical Science of Aging at Aichi Medical University in Japan. Among other things, this study showed that the optimal boiling time to achieve the highest antioxidant activity was above 10 minutes.
     Another study conducted by the Department of Food Science at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa compared rooibos's antioxidant activities to those of green, oolong and black teas. This study found that under certain conditions, semi-fermented rooibos and fermented rooibos extracts showed higher antioxidant activity than black, oolong and even green tea.
     While no independent studies have been conducted on rooibos in the U.S., the Japanese and South African studies seem to be gaining credence among health professionals here.
     In May of this year, Alternative Medicine published an article touting rooibos's health-promoting properties. An article in Healthy & Natural Journal claims that rooibos's antioxidant qualities are up to 50 times more potent than green tea's, and that the herb has been prescribed for everything from nervous tension, allergies, digestive problems, insomnia, and stomach cramps.

Cultivation and Processing
Rooibos only grows in one region on earth: a 100-kilometer radius that extends around the small flatland village of Clanwilliam in the Western Cape region of South Africa, one of the richest botanical areas in the world. In the spring-which in South Africa begins during September-every imaginable color of daisy carpets the countryside, along with heather-like plants known locally as fynbos and the green bush with soft, needle-like leaves known botanically as Aspalathus linearis, or rooibos.
     Rooibos requires a sandy soil with a high acid content and sparse, but consistent rainfall. Farmers plant seeds in February and March, and then from July to August they transfer the seedlings to the plantations. Bruce Ginsberg, the grandson of Benjamin Ginsberg, grew up on a rooibos plantation and operated one during the '70s.
     As a farmer, says Ginsberg, "you really live in a close relationship with these plants. You worry about them constantly; in the middle of winter you try to plant new seeds while it rains, to ensure that they take." From the time the seedlings are transplanted, a full 18 months must pass before the first crop can be harvested. Harvesting can be conducted with a sickle-still the most common technique-or by machine.
     The field can be harvested two to three more times, after which the land is plowed. It must lay fallow for five years before it can be replanted. During this time, farmers can fertilize the soil or plant other crops like wheat or potatoes. Most rooibos producers also rely on cattle, fruit and vegetable farming. Very few grow the red bush exclusively.
     Ginsberg says there were great difficulties in cultivating rooibos initially due to the rarity and minuscule size of the seed. "In the 1930s it was the most expensive tea seed in the world," he says. "I think a matchbox of seed [then] was said to have cost about 80 pounds."
     To obtain seeds for planting, Ginsberg says, farmers had to sift the sand and extract each seed grain by grain. He tells the story of how the problem was overcome. "An old woman [had] noticed a termite carrying a seed, and she followed this termite back to its nest and discovered a half pound of seed inside. [It was] then realized that termites collected it, and this then became a source." Redelinghuys says that today, producers still must collect seeds from under the bush, and some producers collect seed from the nests.
     Another problem was the rooibos seed's almost impenetrable shell. "They did all sorts of experiments using sandpaper and light dilutions of acid," says Ginsberg. "In nature, there would be mountain fires that would heat up the soil, the plants would give off ash that had an acidic quality, and when it rained the natural acids were able to eat through the shell." Today, cultivators use a light dilution of acid that imitates what happens in nature.
      In a region where rainfall can be as little as 400 mm per year, drought is always a threat. For the last three years, Redelinghuys says, the area has had poor rainfall. But interestingly, the quality and flavor profile of rooibos in times of drought is very good when the plant is under stress. Production levels, however, go down.
     Rooibos is also the only herb, like tea, that is fermented. Ginsberg has vivid memories of fermenting rooibos. "[Farmers] would put it into piles, like small compost heaps. We used to call them pancakes, pannekoek in Dutch. They were about six inches high and you would add water to them.
     Over a period of 12 to 24 hours, depending on the temperature, the green tea would slowly change color, to the required reddish tinge. If you left it long enough it would turn completely black. And then once you had the required color you would lift up a handful of this tea and give it a whiff. It would smell like an apple that had been crushed and left for a few hours. The bees would start buzzing around it as well. You knew then that your tea was properly cured."
     Over a period of 12 to 24 hours, depending on the temperature, the green tea would slowly change color, to the required reddish tinge. If you left it long enough it would turn completely black. And then once you had the required color you would lift up a handful of this tea and give it a whiff. It would smell like an apple that had been crushed and left for a few hours. The bees would start buzzing around it as well. You knew then that your tea was properly cured."
     This open-air processing is still practiced today. Some of the bigger producers have their own processing yards. Rooibos Ltd. is examining the options of processing rooibos under more controlled conditions, but until funds are available to implement them, natural processing will continue to be an effective method.

Flavor Profile
Caroline MacDougall, Minister of Herbs for The Republic of Tea and president of her own herbal coffee company called Teeccino, specializes in designing teas for various companies. She has used rooibos in several herbal blends and some chais. She likes to draw an analogy between the way that rooibos compares to other tea flavor profiles and the way cow milk compares to other types of milk. "You know how dairy milk is like a neutral?" she asks. "Then you have soy milks and rice milks and all those variations with different flavors. It's the same way with tea. Because black tea came first, it's our neutral-it's [theoretically] what tea is supposed to taste like."
     Indeed, except for its notable lack of bitterness, rooibos's flavor profile is uncannily like black tea's. MacDougall has developed a number of products for Uncle Lee's tea that use rooibos in place of black tea, including an English Breakfast, an Earl Grey and several flavored chais.
     "Rooibos is a fabulous base for blends," says MacDougall. "You can immediately get your body and depth from it, and then use herbs as flavor accents, whereas a lot of times in herbal tea blends you've got the accents-nice little flowers and barks-and you're looking to find the depth."

The traditional grading system for rooibos is straightforward: choice, a rough grade, is suitable for loose-leaf teas, for blending and for manufacturing extracts; super, a slightly smaller cut, is a good teabag grade. More than 80 percent of all rooibos sold is super grade.
     As uses for rooibos in South Africa have diversified, Rooibos Ltd. has introduced new cuts. The classic cut is the finest, and comprises only eight percent of the total crop. Its ability to quickly infuse makes it an excellent teabag grade. The superior fine cut, like the classic cut, is also suitable for teabags but contains sticks to create a flavor profile that Redelinghuys compares to a chardonnay-like woodiness.
     MacDougall says that for the American market, this expanded grading system is still not very relevant. "Over here, we're selling a fairly standard grade. We don't yet have the kind of situation they [have] in South Africa, where they try to develop a specific grade that has a certain flavor profile for a manufacturer," she says. "We're still just getting rooibos off the ground here."
      And though rooibos resembles tea in many ways, the rule that quality is compromised as the tea is chopped up smaller doesn't apply. First of all, says MacDougall, "there isn't really a fanning or dust-it doesn't really get that small."
     Some better cuts actually come from the tip, a younger part of the plant, meaning some teabag rooibos is as good as many loose-leaf teas

Rooibos at Retail
Rooibos is easy to prepare-it doesn't grow bitter with lengthy steeping, or ultra-tart like some herbals. "It's kind of hard to wreck," says Jhanne Jasmine, owner of The TeaZone, a teahouse in Portland, Ore. "Evening Jewel," a blend containing marigold, linden and rose, is currently Jasmine's number one tea-outselling blacks, greens, oolongs, and other herbals. Add milk and a touch of honey, says Jasmine, and you've got an antioxidant cocktail.
Reenah Shah, owner of Chado Tea Co. in Beverly Hills, Calif., has carried rooibos for about six years. Her popular sellers are a vanilla- and caramel-flavored rooibos and "Bourbon," a vanilla- and chocolate-flavored blend.
     Rooibos can also be used in drink recipes where black tea would normally be used. Jasmine uses a rooibos concentrate from a loose-leaf blend in place of black tea to make a caffeine-free chai spice drink.
     Hugh Lamond, Rooibos Ltd.'s marketing representative for North America, says that because rooibos tends to be so fine, retailers should prepare all loose-leaf blends with an ultra-fine paper filter.

After 20 years of calling rooibos "Masai" on its labeling to avoid Apartheid sanctions, Good Earth will finally drop the moniker next March, when the company relaunches a line promoting rooibos's unique health and caffeine-free qualities.
     The Republic of Tea, which currently carries two herbal blends containing rooibos, "Desert Sage," and "Rainforest Tea," will soon offer another herbal blend called "Seize the Day." Uncle Lee's line, which includes Orange Ginger (rooibos) chai, will soon add a rooibos Earl Grey and English Breakfast.
     Numi Tea offers a rooibos teabag; look for its Red Mellow Bush Rooibos Teasan. Toddy's Products also offers rooibos teabags in exotic-looking packaging, as well as a cane-sweetened bottled rooibos concentrate. Trader Joe's introduced Ginsberg's Eleven O'Clock Rooibosch Tea in November.
     While the market for pure rooibos is gradually growing, American consumers are most likely to be tantalized by rooibos blends. SpecialTeas offers 12 rooibos blends by the 1/4 lb. on its website, including a new one containing chocolate bits and peppermint leaves; one with cocoa pieces, almond bits and chocolate-rum flavoring, and several fruit-flavored blends.
     SpecialTeas also offers one of the newest rooibos products: "green" rooibos tea, an unfermented version of rooibos that is said to have even higher antioxidant properties and a lighter, fruitier flavor.
     For other options, check out Khoi San Tea Co. and Savannah Imports. The Internet is also a portal to a great deal of information about rooibos. Try Simpson & Vail's website (www.svtea.com) and International Tea Importers (www.buychai.com). A keyword search using the phrase "rooibos blends" will also lead to a multitude of rooibos-related websites.

The Future
According to MacDougall, 2001 is due to be a banner year for rooibos, with several product launches happening among major tea companies. With the proliferation of rooibos products on the market, Rooibos Ltd. hopes major U.S. companies with national distribution muscle will catch on to the red tea as a stand-alone drink, and, eventually, that people will come to appreciate the differences in grades and growers.
     But Redelinghuys strongly values the role that smaller companies and retailers can serve in setting a trend across the country. "We will need [them] to start running with rooibos," he says. "Based on the successes that they have, bigger companies will follow."
     Until then, the red tea will continue to be drunk in blends by millions. Certain consumers may begin to look more closely at ingredients labeling of grocery store brands; others will be guided by astute retailers.
     Redelinghuys isn't worried. It took the German market a long time to catch on to rooibos in its pure form. He looks forward to the moment when he can give the signal to his farmers to plant more of the red bush. "It's a challenge we've always looked forward to," he says. "We can't wait."
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease.


Honeybush loose leaf  $16.00

Honeybush 30 tea bags   $9.00

Honeybush has been described as the little sister of rooibos. EcoTeas Organic Honeybush comes from a small leguminous shrub with  bright yellow flowers native to South Africa. In addition to sharing many of rooibos' health benefits, *reports indicate that it is an excellent regulator of women's hormonal cycles. True to its name, the flavor of honeybush is mildly sweet with mellow apricot undertones.

Reprinted from the December 2001 issue of Fresh Cup Magazine, a monthly publication for the specialty coffee and tea industries. For more information, visit www.freshcup.com.

Over the past year, we've heard a lot about rooibos, the South African "wonder herb" that yields a healthy infusion reminiscent of Camellia sinensis. Now there's news that rooibos isn't the only such plant growing along the Cape of South Africa-there's also honeybush, a cousin of rooibos that many say produces an even sweeter, smoother, more nutrient-rich herbal infusion. But for a plant that was first documented in the early 1700s, honeybush has maintained a surprisingly low profile. "It's so versatile," says Reem Rahim, co-founder of Numi Tea in Oakland, California. "It's sweet; it doesn't contain caffeine; it can handle milk; and it's very soothing. But it's sort of a secret. We call it the secret tea of Africa." Fortunately, the secret is getting out.

Written records of honeybush date back some 300 years, when it is believed that the Koi and San tribes of South Africa gathered the plant from the wild to partake of its sweet flavor and soothing properties. Every spring and fall, the bush, which grows along the coast of the Eastern and Western Cape and high in the Langlauf Mountains, would offer natives a brilliant display of bright yellow flowers that smelled like honey, hence the name.
     While rooibos has become somewhat of a national drink in South Africa, honeybush has only recently gained recognition in its homeland. Historically, the plant was wild-crafted on a small scale by resourceful farmers who would venture into the mountains to collect as much raw material as they could carry back down the steep terrain. Later, the farmers devised a wire and pulley system to get more honeybush down from the mountains to be cultivated and harvested.
     Mentions of the herb throughout the 1800s are scarce, and it only began to reenter the radar screen in the early '90s, when Dr. Hannes De Lange, a researcher at the National Institute at Kirstenbosh, near Cape Town, began to research and promote its properties. Dr. De Lange went on to help establish small commercial plantings of honeybush in the Eastern Cape province, and subsequent research was conducted throughout the '90s, ascertaining that the herb could help everything from indigestion to cancerous tumors.
     Until recently, honeybush farming had remained limited and relatively small in scale. In fact, there was no controlling body for honeybush cultivation until 1998, when a group of farmers looking to standardize production formed the South African Honeybush Producers Association (SAHPA). The production of honeybush in South Africa has grown slowly but steadily. In 1997, approximately 30 tons of the plant was processed, and by 2000, figures reached 150 tons.
     In the spring of 2001, the first large-scale South African plantation dedicated to the cultivation of honeybush began operating in the town of Haarlem. The farm is the result of a joint partnership between ASNAPP (Agribusiness in Sustainable Natural African Plant Products), Rutgers University and the Herb Research Foundation, and the goal is to create a cooperative farm operated by local growers who donate their time to plant upwards of 100,000 honeybush plants. The hope is that by cultivating the plant in such a way, growers will be able to control variations in the raw material as the market for honeybush products expands. It will also prevent farmers from having to resort to the laborious and less cost-effective wild-crafting techniques.

Harvesting & Processing
So far, 23 species of honeybush have been identified, but currently, only two varieties are used for commercial production, Cyclopia intermedia and Cyclopia subternata. In general, the plant is characterized by its woody stems, trifoliate leaves and, when in bloom, dazzling yellow flowers. Honeybush grows in the coastal regions of the Eastern and Western Cape and is harvested during the flowering season, which for the aforementioned varieties is September and October.
     Honeybush processing entails five basic steps: harvesting, cutting, fermentation, drying, and sieving. Several harvesting methods are used. Sometimes collectors cut only the plant's young growth using a sickle or pruning shears; other times they cut the bush .33 meters from the ground or even as close to the ground as possible. Cutting the bush back is believed to revive the plant and make for better harvests the following year.
     Once the honeybush is harvested, it is chopped up, usually with mechanized cutters. Cutting the leaves facilitates the fermentation process and creates a more uniform leaf size. After cutting, the leaves are ready to be fermented, and a processor might use one of two methods. One technique is called heap fermentation, in which a pile of honeybush with as much as 2.5 tons of raw material is tightly packed together, covered with canvas or Hessian bags, and left to cure or ferment for several days. After three days, the pile is turned and mixed every 12 hours to ensure even fermentation. Once the honeybush turns dark brown in color and develops its trademark sweet aroma, it is spread out on canvas to dry in the sun, generally for one to two days.
     The other fermentation method makes use of ovens. Here, the honeybush is placed in Hessian bags and scalded with water to heat it up before fermentation begins. The bags of honeybush are then placed in preheated "baking ovens" and left to ferment for 24 to 36 hours. Again, once the honeybush develops the desirable color and aroma, it is dried. Oven fermentation is believed to deliver a more consistent product, because processors have more control over temperature.
     Finally, the tea is sieved into several grades. "Super Grade" is ideal for teabags and known for its superior flavor, aroma and liquor; "Choice Grade" is usually sold in loose form and offers an exceptional liquor, flavor and aroma; and "GG1 Grade" contains coarser material of inconsistent size but is still used in loose form.

Character Profile
In the cup, honeybush is often described as honey-like, apricoty, floral, smooth, and, of course, sweet. "One of the first flavors you get is a honey taste," says Rahim. "It has a full-bodied brew, so it handles milk well; it has slightly spicy undertones; and it's a bit earthy, but not like rooibos. It's not as straw-like as rooibos. Honeybush is much smoother and has an overall sweeter taste."
     One of the reasons honeybush is so smooth in the cup is that it contains virtually no tannin, a substance that contributes to a bitterness or astringency in real tea. "You can steep it all day and it will not become bitter," says Renée Hemelka, co-owner of Port Trading Co., a California-based importer of honeybush and rooibos. "It's incredibly smooth." Another factor is that it contains practically no caffeine-approximately 0.01 percent-which some people claim can also contribute to bitter notes.
     Honeybush takes well to milk and sugar, but most people prefer to drink it straight. Jennifer Peterson, who operates Carnelian Rose Tea Company, a tea shop in Vancouver, Wash., says that she serves the tea with a slice of orange and a cinnamon stick. She opts for orange over the more traditional lemon slice, because she says the sweetness of the orange complements honeybush more than the tartness of lemon.
     For the perfect infusion, Peterson recommends using a paper filter, pouring boiling water over the tea and steeping the infusion for several minutes. "After about three or four minutes, you get a good taste," she says. "You can infuse up to three times and still get a great flavor."

Health Benefits
Like rooibos, honeybush has been garnering attention for its impressive vitamin and mineral content. Not only is it packed with vitamin C, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, but it also contains isoflavones and coumestans, which are believed to help prevent cancerous tumors and osteoporosis. Honeybush's supposed health benefits run the gamut-relieving colic in babies, repairing sun damage, aiding digestion, even stimulating milk production in nursing mothers. A growing number of scientific studies around the world are being conducted on the herb's health properties, and consumer testimonials are quickly emerging.
     Peterson says that she gave a sample of honeybush to a customer whose mother was unable to stand because her knees hurt so badly. "After about four days of drinking honeybush, she was able to get up. There was no pain in her knees, no leg cramps and she's sleeping better at night," Peterson says.
     But perhaps honeybush is becoming most recognized for its effectiveness in alleviating menopausal symptoms in women, making it popular among today's aging baby boomers. "Baby boomers are paying more attention to what they consume, and honeybush fits into their diets with its naturally sweet flavor and nutrients." says Hemelka.
     Rahim says that one of her middle-aged female customers claims that when she drinks honeybush, her hot flashes subside. And Linda Smith, co-owner of Divinitea, a tea company in Schenectady, N.Y., agrees with Hemelka, saying, "There are so many baby boomers trying to figure out what menopause is and how to avoid using drugs to treat it." She adds that in addition to the tea's effectiveness in helping these women, honeybush tastes great. "Face it-we love drinking tea. Why not drink something that's going to help support your system and your age bracket?"
     Nira Levy Maslin, co-owner of African Red Tea Imports in Los Angeles, says that she has been overwhelmed by the feedback she has received from her honeybush customers. "People constantly tell me how good they feel when they drink it-physically, emotionally, mentally," she says. "Whatever their comment, they all say it feels good. No medicine can give you this kind of pleasure. That's what makes honeybush so wonderful."

The Outlook
The market for honeybush seems primed for the taking. Baby boomers, health-conscious consumers, people avoiding caffeine, and fans of herbal teas are all potential honeybush drinkers. Smith plans to market the tea primarily to menopausal women. "We've been test-marketing honeybush to see how favorably people would respond," she says. "Women like it because it has vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, isoflavones, and it tastes good."
     Peterson says she will be putting much more emphasis on honeybush, introducing at least 20 blends of the tea. She is experimenting with flavor combinations, trying to create blends that are flavorful and still healthy. So far, she says that most customers who have tried honeybush have become instant fans. "At first I gave away samples and said, 'Take this home. If you feel good, come back and buy some,'" she says. "I would say that more than 90 percent of those people have returned to buy more."
     Rahim's outlook is equally promising. "As people begin to taste honeybush, they will fall in love with it. And as the health benefits get more publicity, I think more people will try it. If they see results and they like the taste, it will definitely continue to grow."
     And Levy Maslin agrees with Rahim's projection, saying that over the next few years, we can expect to see honeybush follow the swift growth pattern of rooibos. The reason, she says, is simple. "You drink and you feel it. That's the bottom line-the flavor and the feeling."

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease.