Rooibos Tea: From Cape to Cup

According to legend, the Chinese emperor Shen Nung accidentally discovered tea over 4,700 years ago when a few leaves blew off a nearby shrub and landed in some water his servant was boiling. Shen Nung drank the resulting infusion and liked it so much that he called it “C’ha”. This appealing story is often told about the discovery of tea but the truth is that no-one knows exactly who first drank tea. It was only thousands of years later that the first record of tea cultivation was documented in 350 AD.

Fast forward to the early 20th century and we find ourselves in South Africa. This is where the red bush plant grows – known more commonly by its Afrikaans name, rooibos. The rooibos plant only grows in the Cedarberg Mountains, a small area of the Western Cape of South Africa. The history of rooibos tea is practically foetal compared to Chinese legend – but it is an interesting one all the same and shares some similarities to the Shen Nung story.

In 1903 Benjamin Ginsberg, the founder of rooibos tea, rode into the remote Cedarberg mountains in South Africa and came across local farmers making a rough brew from a wild plant. Ginsberg became fascinated with this drink and used traditional tea curing techniques to create the delicious rooibos tea which is now enjoyed around the world. Today his family continues their unbroken tradition of rooibos tea production in the Cape.

Tick Tock tea is still made according to Ginsberg’s original specifications and is the most popular redbush tea sold in the UK. To this day, rooibos tea is still lovingly harvested by hand and cured naturally in the clear Cedarberg mountain air. Tick Tock rooibos tea is available from selected stores in Cambridge including Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys and Waitrose. Recently other versions of rooibos tea have started to appear on the shelves – most notably versions by Tetley – but in my opinion, Tick Tock remains the original and best.

Rooibos tea is gentle and soothing. It has been shown to have many health properties as it is rich in antioxidants which may support the immune system against free radical damage. It is also naturally caffeine free so it can be enjoyed at any time of the day and it’s the ideal bedtime drink as it allows for restful sleep.

To make the perfect cup of rooibos tea – add freshly boiled water and allow to brew for up to 4 minutes. Sugar or honey can be added but this refreshing tea is not bitter at all. Milk is optional as the low tannin content means the tea is delicious without milk. A slice of lemon can be added for flavour or try making an iced tea with mint during the warmer months.

Rooibos is also known to intensify the natural flavours of food when it is used as a meat tenderizer and as a base for meat and chicken marinades. A cookbook has been produced in association with Rooibos Ltd of South Africa which showcases the vast cooking versatility of rooibos. 14 of South Africa’s top chefs have contributed to the book which shows that rooibos is not only a healthy beverage but can also be used as a diverse ingredient in the kitchen. This truly South African cookbook containing over 100 delicious recipes is now available in an English language version from Amazon.

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About Alan Philippe

Describing himself as an extraordinary guy doing ordinary things, Alan Philippe is the epitome of a people's person and it's no suprise that this perfect host is a typical ESFJ. Before starting his publishing career, Alan graduated with Joint Honours from University College London having read Physiology & Pharmacology. He worked for many years in Learning & Development, although his experience spans much more than this. Indeed, he was even once a recruitment consultant although Alan says he left the Dark Side relatively unscathed! Alan Philippe has a passion for fashion, interior design and all things vintage. When he's not busy in his role as Creative Editor of City Connect, you'll find him in either socialising in his favourite hotspots, getting a culture fix in the world of Art & Theatre, following the latest fashion and design trends or simply enjoying the best that life has to offer at home and abroad. Follow him on Twitter @A1Philippe
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