Infusion Corner: All About Rooibos


[Photos: Liz Clayton]

Among the trendier herbal teas of the last decade is rooibos, a South African infusion whose name is taken from the Afrikaans "red bush", the plant from which it grows. Lauded for the usual supposed health benefits (antioxidants! no caffeine! cures dropsy!) that all hypermarketed herbal teas seem to carry, rooibos has proven—at the very least—to be versatile and tasty.

This so-called "red tea" (not to be confused with actual tea, grown from the camellia sinensis plant, nor with the Chinese term for what we call "black tea") is grown exclusively on the Western Cape of South Africa. Upon summer harvest, the leaves of the plant are trimmed and bruised to ready them for oxidation, which, much like the fermentation of tea, allows the chemical composition of the leaves to develop. (Green rooibos tea exists too, with a lighter, drier, grassier flavor, and is derived from the same redbush plant without undergoing an oxidation process.) After oxidation (or not), the rooibos leaves are then dried and prepared for market.

Brewing the tea is done in a similar fashion to black tea, though your choice of vessel may be affected by the sieve or mesh filter size you've got handy—most loose rooibos comes cut small and fine, and will escape through the apertures of wider-holed filters.

Grab your kettle and infusion gear of choice, and let's make rooibos.

Leaf Dose: 1 tesapoon of leaves per 8 ounces of water

Water: Bring good quality water to a boil, and be ready to pour off immediately.

Steep Time: Anywhere between 3 and 6 minutes will yield you a flavorful cup of rooibos. Unlike teas, oversteeping will not produce the bitter and harsh tastes you may be used to experiencing with "going over time". Start with an infusion time somewhere in the middle, and adjust your steep length to the depth and fruitiness of flavor you prefer.

Serving: Though rooibos has a naturally beguiling fruity sweetness, it can be sweetened afterward (with sugar, honey, or simple syrup) or infused alongside fruit. It's surprisingly delicious in milk, which instead of producing a clash of flavors brings a light, fruit-creamy character to this fruity, tobacco-y leaf.


As with other uniquely flavored infusions, rooibos is also popular with experimental cooks, who have either added or substituted rooibos to recipes for scones, shrimp, marinades and couscous (quick: say "rooibos couscous" five times fast.) But however you prefer to deploy it, rooibos is a versatile and flavorful herbal that's great to have on hand whenever you don't want caffeine, or simply want something different. (You know. Like couscous.)