Rooibos: The Flavor of South Africa
New tea company brings Certified Organic Rooibos to the US from South Africa’s mystical Cederberg region.
With its vaunted health benefits, sweet flavor and appealing rich mahogany color, Rooibos tea (pronounced “roy-boss”) is becoming increasingly popular outside its native South Africa. Although health food outlets and boutique stores have been selling the tea Stateside for some time, a source for certified 100 percent Certified Organic Rooibos harvested in responsible ways has been elusive.
That changes this month with the debut of the Red Leopard Tea Company. Created by South African entrepreneur and eco-reserve owner Linton Pope, the company is focused not just on introducing organic Rooibos to US consumers, but also on preserving the untamed landscapes and breathtaking vistas of the Western Cape’s Cederberg region, the only place on Earth where the Rooibos plants grow and home to the potentially endangered Cape Leopard. “I wanted to bring something of the health experience and sense of place that we hold so dear to the world at large,” says Pope. “We thought a cup of Rooibos tea would be a wonderful entrée.”
Although some have tried to plant and harvest Rooibos in other areas like California and Hawaii, for unknown reasons, all attempts to grow the plant in other locations have failed. The region’s native San people were the original discovers of the benefits of rooibos. They used it for centuries, creating a sweet and savory tea from the plant’s leaves and stems which were first cut and bruised with wooden hammers, fermented in stacks, then sundried in the African sun. Since rooibos is otherwise untreated, all of the caffeine-free plant’s healthful benefits are preserved. The natural minerals and trace elements found in a cup of rooibos include Vitamin C, Alpha-hydroxy, Potassium, Copper, Manganese, Magnesium, Calcium and Zinc. There are also unconfirmed studies showing that the flavinoids contained in rooibos may be up to 50 times more effective than those found in green tea.
Today, harvested Rooibos can be processed in two different ways. The green leaves and stems can be bruised and sundried without fermentation, which is then referred to as Green Rooibos, a variation containing higher levels of polyphenol antioxidants than “red” rooibos, which loses some antioxidants during the fermentation process. Green Rooibos also differs in that it has a tan/yellow color rather than the rich reddish color of fermented Rooibos. It has a very mild “green” taste reminiscent of green tea but without the astringency. The “red” fermented variety is quite different, with a stronger sweet and fruity taste. Red Leopard is introducing both types, as well as Rooibos infused with flavors including African peach and vanilla. All Red Leopard teas are kosher and certified 100% organic by both the USDA and Europe’s Ecocert.
Another plus is Pope, the company’s founder, is actively engaged in preserving the region’s pristine state through Gecko Creek, an over 1,000 acre private nature reserve and wilderness lodge adjoining the vast Cederberg Reserve, the most important habitat for the rare Cape Leopard. Off the more popular tourist tracks, the Cederberg is a sparsely populated area noted for its hiking, rock climbing, canoeing and unspoiled habitat. In fact, the region’s Elephant River is known to have the richest variety of endemic fish species of any river south of the Zambezi.
“Really, the purpose of the tea is to not only share the benefits of Rooibos, but to protect and preserve this incredible area and habitat for the Cape Leopard,” says Pope. That’s the type of endeavor that’s definitely our cup of tea.
Where to find Red Leopard Tea
Red Leopard Tea is currently available in these Los Angeles-area locations, with broader distribution planned for the near future:
High Tea Cottage
21938 Costanso Street
Woodland Hills CA 91364
Oh Fancy That
18399 Ventura Blvd #11
(No website but on Facebook)
Canyon Gourmet ( Topanga )
120 Topanga Canyon Blvd #110
Topanga, CA 90290
310 455 4200
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I love the soft flavor red rooibus – especially in the blends by Mariage Freres and Zhena’s Red Gypsy Tea. Thanks for teaching me so much more about it.
Last week I bought 2 tins of the Bush Natural and the Zulu Peach and shared it with a couple of friends at my home with shortbread cookies. Having drank Rooibos tea for a number of years, I was amazed at the richness and subtly delicate flavor of this particular organic tea. It’s now on my shopping list 🙂
This really is a lovely tea..I am surprised wasnt expecting it to be so amazing ! Truley one of my favorites.