South Africa is the only producer of rooibos tea in the world. The plant, which the Khoikhoi historically used to make tea from, grows exclusively in the Cedarberg Mountain region and around Clanwilliam and Citrusdal. It requires specific climatic conditions, can only been grown at certain altitude and in deep sandy soils. It only needs little rain, a combination of factors which apparently only prevails in this part of the world. Cultivation of this wild plant began in about 1930, and the tea then began to be processed industrially.
Rooibos (red bush) is a shrub which grows up to 1.5 metres high with fine, needle-like leaves. The Rooibos roots reach very deep down to the groundwater and can also absorb humidity through a complex root system just under the surface of the soil.
After two years, Rooibos tea can be harvested. The twigs and leaves are finely chaffed, spread out, wetted and rolled. After the process of fermentation and air-drying is completed, the tea is cleaned, sorted and eventually packed into teabags and packages.
Rooibos tea is a favourite amongst health-conscious people because it contains no caffeine and hardly any tannin, but is rich in vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, calcium and iron. It is an exclusive South African drink and is mainly exported to Japan, however, health shops in Europe and America stock it.
Rooibos tea is being internationally marketed by the Rooibos Tea Company in Clanwilliam, the co-op of the tea farmers. Visitors are welcome and guided tours and slide shows are offered. Top: At the beginning of the rainy season the tea is cut. The plant produces tea for 5 to 6 years. Bottom: Rooibos plantation in sandy soil. It only grows in deep sandy soils and at altitudes of between 200 and 500 metres above sea level.