Rooibos tea, otherwise known as African red bush tea, is a drink which is becoming more and more popular. People who enjoy rooibos tea, however, may be surprised to learn that it is actually not a true tea, but is considered to be a herbal tea or infusion.
Black tea and green tea are both produced from the tea plant camiellia sinensis, while rooibos tea comes from Aspalathus linearis, which is a broom-like member of the legume family.
While black tea can be grown commercially in many areas around the world, including China, Japan, Java, India, Ceylon, and Sumatra, rooibos production is quite limited. It can, in fact, only be grown in South Africa, specifically in a very small area in the region of the Western Cape province.
Notable similarities are that both black tea and rooibos are known to provide the body with protective antioxidants, which are believed to slow or prevent the development of cancer. Also, the production of both types of tea involves similar processes of oxidation and fermentation.
However, there are many more similarities than differences.
Rooibos contains many more antioxidants than black tea. In addition, it is naturally caffeine-free, so is a good choice for people who are sensitive to caffeine, and can be enjoyed as a comforting bedtime drink by those who suffer from insomnia.
Also, rooibos contains less than half the tannin of black tea. Tannin is known to inhibit the body’s absorption of minerals like iron, so the absence of high levels of tannin also makes rooibos a healthier option.
Tannin also gives black tea which has been steeped for too long a characteristically bitter or “stewed” taste, and can cause staining of teeth. However, when rooibos is steeped to full strength develops a rich red color and a nutty flavour with no bitterness, and it is not known to stain the teeth.
In addition, black tea contains a high mount of oxalic acid, which has been linked to the development of kidney stones. While a liter of black tea contains 100 umol per liter, the same quantity of rooibos contains only 5.5 umol.
Rooibos tea is also said to be beneficial for the skin so, unlike black tea, rooibos is not only available for drinking, but is also used as an ingredient in soaps, shampoos and creams. It is, in fact believed to have healing properties and may be used to heal skin conditions such as eczema, acne and psoriasis. It is also believed that drinking rooibos on a regular basis may protect from degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
In spite of these differences, both black tea and rooibos tea can be enjoyed in the same way. Both can be drunk with or without milk or lemon, unsweetened, or sweetened with sugar or honey depending on taste. However, because rooibos is naturally less bitter, less sweetener can be used. While black tea has a sharp aroma, the aroma of rooibos is much sweeter and somewhat reminiscent of a summer hayfield.