Unlike conventional teas which are made from the leaves of the Camellia family, Rooibos tea (also known as redbush) is made from the unique South African shrub, Aspalathus linearis. Naturally caffeine free, full bodied, and with a sweet nutty finish, rooibos has become very popular in South Africa and around the world for its unique taste, numerous health benefits, and variety of flavours. Honeybush tea, which has a slightly more delicate taste, is made from a related shrub (Cyclopia) named for its delightfully honeyed aroma.
Rooibos grows only in the remote Cedarberg Mountains several hours north of Cape Town – all attempts to grow it beyond this hot and rugged area have failed. While a relatively recent addition to the vast world of tea drinking, it is said that these Cape ‘bush teas’ were first documented in 1772 by the acclaimed Swedish botanist Carl Thunberg. He noted that "the country people made tea" from a plant related to wild rooibos and honeybush, which also grows in the botanically rich south-western Cape.
Both rooibos and honeybush were pioneered by Dutch settlers who built their homesteads in the wild and isolated regions of the Cape, and had to learn how to make tea substitutes from the indigenous plants. By the 1900s, more recent settlers like Benjamin Ginsberg – a young Russian from a Moscow tea merchant family – refined the oxidisation and production process, employing similar methodologies to the processing of Chinese oolong and keemun teas. Once harvested, the needle-like tips of the bushes are heavily bruised, chopped and left to oxidise under the sun.