Rooibos

As mentioned several times before, I first learned about bush tea from Alexander McCall Smith whose marvelous heroine Precious Ramotswe sips the beverage at regular intervals throughout the day, whenever there is a need for contemplation, which is often. I didn’t realize that her drink of choice was available in the United States until a couple of weeks ago when I was making a flying run through the local health food store and a tan box with a red-orange label came leaping off the shelf. It was African Red Bush. I didn’t have time to examine it closely but made a mental note to check it out on my next visit, which was day before yesterday.

The package is fascinating: It says “herbal infusion, caffeine free, a tantalizing blend of creamy African rooibos & tangy hibiscus flowers.” It was produced by Tazo, a company from Portland, Oregon. I was going to provide a link but was ordered to install Adobe Flash player. The last time I tried I wound up with three days of computer update woes so here’s the pre-flash link. Anyway, Tazo’s  teas and tisanes (the proper term for anything that isn’t a member of the official tea family) always seemed a bit more flavorful than the ubiquitous Celestial Seasonings. From the carton I learned that red bush tea when brewed is amber. “In the color … you can sometimes catched the blazing rays of an ancient flaming sunset over the great Rift Valley.” Marvelous!

Like CS, Tazo puts whimsical stuff on its tea cartons. In this case the top of the box says “In some places Tazo is more highly valued than magic pebbles.”  On the side, “The African red bush, or rooibos, is ironically enough an evergreen shrub. As far as we know, staring at the plant for too long will not cause color blindness.” Cute, cute.

Yesterday afternoon seemed the perfect time to have a cup of this beverage that invokes the heat of Africa. After all, the temp here in Connecticut had barely climbed above freezing, and we had six inches of snow on the ground. Just as I sat down with my steaming cup, the weather forecaster announced we were about to have thunderstorms. Sure enough, I heard a distant rumble.

The tea worked its magic. The scent as I opened the (individually wrapped) packet reminded me of Mu tea, which contains some citrus but is a bit sweeter in scent than the rooibos. The closest I can come to a comparison is an intense combination of allspice and lemon. The used tea bag retained its scent after 24 hours. That’s how long it took for me to retrieve the cup and bag.

As for the flavor – ineffable is the best word, but that doesn’t help. It combined the barest pleasant hint of menthol with the rose-hips astringency of the hibiscus. This beverage needs no sugar or honey, and the addition of lemon would just intensify the already citrus-y flavors from the lemon myrtle, lemon verbena, orange peel, lemon balm and citric acid.

So what’s the story with this ambrosial drink? Tea muse (love the name) says that the Khosians, a bush tribe from South Africa, drank rooibos for eons. But they are no longer with us, and they took the secret of the tea as medicine with them. The drink, which isn’t strictly a tea, also goes by the names also bush tea or red tea or redbush.

Whatever the name, it returned to the world stage in 1970 when a woman in South Africa wrote that feeding her baby the tea had cured its colic and let it fall asleep. It’s now being touted as a way to relieve allergies. Another web site, which sells the tea, says it “aids in health problems such as insomnia, irritability, headaches, nervous tension, and hypertension.” Like its green cousin, rooibos is allegedly high in anti-oxidants. And it can be applied to the skin to soothe irritations, or so says African Tea.

I don’t know about all of the health claims, but it sure tastes fabulous. In fact, I’m enjoying a cup as I write this, wishing I could join Mma Ramotswe as she sips her own cup. It’s going to be one of those things that I’ll have to limit to one cup a day otherwise I’ll be drowning in the stuff.

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One Response to “Rooibos”

  1. What I’m Reading Now « Lizr128′s Blog Says:

    […] readers know I love Alexander McCall Smith (“Thrilled This Day Is Over,” “Rooibos,” “Meditation on Meditation,” “Where Have I Been?” and the other entries I mentioned in […]

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