According to the SA Rooibos Council (SARC), more people are trying Rooibos than ever before, but each country has its own way of drinking it.
According to Adele du Toit, SARC spokesperson, tea-drinking traditions have been incorporated into cultures around the world for centuries, and the various ways people take their tea reveal these unique cultural nuances.
She says countries with an English ancestry drink Rooibos with milk and sugar, whereas Eastern countries drink it black, quite weak, with no sugar or flavourings.
“In contrast, Europeans with a more herbal background like to mix Rooibos with a variety of herbs, all with delicate flavours.
“Because Americans prefer it cold or iced and prefer stronger-flavoured teas, it becomes a carrier.”
According to a survey of more than a thousand tea enthusiasts conducted by the SARC, the majority of South Africans prefer to drink Rooibos in its purest form with nothing added. Some will add milk, a teaspoon of sugar or sweetener, or maybe a drizzle of honey. Others like to add lemon, spice it up with cinnamon, or experiment with fruit. And others still like to add a tot of whisky or gin for a little extra kick.
When it comes to the type of tea product that South Africans prefer the most, a whopping 44 percent prefer the standard cup of Rooibos, while 56 percent prefer red cappuccinos, espressos, flavoured, spiced, and iced tea as their new favourite Rooibos indulgences.
The best way to drink Rooibos
There are no hard and fast rules for drinking Rooibos, but ideally, you should brew it for at least five minutes with one to two teaspoons of loose leaves or one teabag per cup (250ml) of boiling water.
“Steeping it for longer will increase the antioxidant content. However, you should not pour boiling water directly on the teabag to ensure you get the most antioxidants out of your cup. Fill your cup halfway with boiling water, then add your loose Rooibos leaves or teabag. The tea can be consumed immediately or stored in the refrigerator to be enjoyed cold.”
Du Toit suggests using a flavour wheel to experiment with Rooibos.
“Start by determining the overall taste and aroma of Rooibos – the base notes – by working your way from the outside circle to the centre.
“If it tastes fruity, figure out whether it’s citrusy or berry-like, and so on. Choose what you’re familiar with and then experiment with different blends or make your own infusion by adding fruit and/or spices.”
The flavour profile of Rooibos is unique. Although it brews into a deep red cup, the flavour is quite different from black teas.
“Most South Africans still refer to all leafy beverages steeped in hot water as tea, but technically, the term ‘tea’ only refers to a beverage derived from the Camellia Sinensis plant, which is native to Asia.”
“Tisanes” (pronounced ti-zahn) are herbal teas, like Rooibos.
Finally, du Toit suggests slurping or sucking in the brew rather than sipping it when tasting the “liquor” of tea/tisanes during infusion to maximise the impact on your taste buds.