Rooibos tea and its role in fiction

Rooibos is my favourite hot beverage, and occasionally, cold beverage. It’s been months since I’ve cut out caffeine and I really feel great. Part of it is because of the way my body responds to caffeine – I wrote about it here.

I know a lot of people, both my and Grant’s mom among them, cannot stand the smell or taste of if.

But Rooibos tea is the favourite drink among many fictional characters (and their authors).

A signature drink, scent or style makes a character distinctive and gives their personalities dimensions, and in recent years, more of them are found with Rooibos tea in hand.

Investigating where Rooibos’ fiction popularity started

The first known mention of Rooibos tea in popular literature was by British-Zimbabwean writer, Alexander McCall Smith in the late ‘90s. Unbeknown to him, his best- selling novel series, the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, went a long way in putting Rooibos tea on the map.

The lead character and heroine of his story, Mma Precious Ramotswe, who starts her own detective agency in Botswana, has a penchant for Rooibos and often drinks it as she unravels one crime mystery after the next. Twenty-one novels in the series have been published to date with millions of copies sold worldwide. The books were also turned into a television series by the BBC and HBO several years ago.

According to Adele du Toit, spokesperson for the SA Rooibos Council, Rooibos tea sales jumped substantially once the novels took off. Ten years after the first novel was launched, Rooibos tea exports to the UK and US – where the books gained abrupt popularity – increased by ten- and five-fold, respectively.

Detecting a Rooibos trend 

The detectives in Scottish crime writer, Ian Rankin’s, Inspector Rebus novels, also started drinking the brew after he was introduced to it. Rankin says he first encountered the tea on a book tour held in South Africa a few years back. The publisher that was chaperoning him ordered it in a restaurant. The author declared that Rooibos has an earthier flavour than black tea and the fact that it has no caffeine means he can drink it all day while working without getting jittery.

Lekker local tea

The characters of local crime fiction author, Deon Meyer, also often drinks Rooibos. He says when developing his characters, he tries to match their personalities with real life to make them as realistic as possible to the reader. As most of his novels are set in South Africa, he refers to places, atmosphere, traditional food and flavours, such as Rooibos, that would give the reader a better sense of the setting.

Rooibos and reading

Sleuthing and Rooibos

There appears to be a common thread among the characters that drink this uniquely South African tea – they are all the sleuthing type. This might be because of the tea’s high antioxidant content, which can help boost memory and concentration – vital for crime-solving.

Currently, an estimated 6 000 tons of Rooibos are exported annually to more than 30 countries.

Tell me about your favourite fictional character’s favourite drink.

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