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History & process of Rooibos tea farming

WRITTEN BY

Kate Bergh

LAST UPDATED

September 15, 2021

Did you know that the Cederberg region of South Africa is the only place in the world where Rooibos tea is grown? Other countries (and even other areas in South Africa), have tried and failed, so it is rather unique in this regard!

Rooibos tea is one of the most important industries of this mountainous area with the tea being exported all over the world.

Countries which particularly love Rooibos tea include Germany, the USA and France. With the tea-loving Brits also importing significant quantities. 

So what is all the fuss?

What sets rooibos apart, besides its delicious taste, are its many health benefits… and there are plenty!

  • High in anti-oxidants – this aids in fighting cancer and other diseases, boosts the immune system and reduces aging (hooray!)
  • It is completely pure and natural as it contains no additives, preservatives or colourants.
  • Rooibos is naturally caffeine-free, and is considered a low tannin beverage

It’s for these reasons that you’ll find rooibos extracts being used in a lot of health and beauty products, from face cream to dietary supplements.

For the complete history of rooibos, check out this longer blog post. We give the history highlights here.

Our guests at Simbavati Cederberg Ridge are always intrigued by the fact that it is indigenous to the area.

Where it all began

The story of Rooibos started over 300 years ago when the indigenous bushmen of the area, the Khoisan, harvested the leaves from the Aspalathus Linearis plant. The leaves were used as herbal remedies for many ailments, and they loved for their delicious, aromatic taste.

And then in 1772, a European botanist Carl Thunberg observed the way this clever indigenous tribe climbed the mountains to find wild rooibos plants. His captivation with this practice revived a more widespread interest in the tea drink.

It is also worth noting that early Cape-Dutch settlers started drinking rooibos tea as a cheaper alternative to the very expensive black tea from Europe. That tea had to be imported by ship, so rooibos was a great substitute!

Fast forward 200 years to 1904 when Benjamin Ginsberg appeared on the scene. He was a young Russian immigrant, (often called the father of commercial Rooibos Tea), who joined his tea-trading father on the farm Rondegat in the Clanwilliam district of the Cederberg. Ginsberg had a fascination with the plant and began marketing the drink as a ‘Mountain Tea’ – a herbal alternative to tea.

But in 1930 Dr le Fras Nortier, the local doctor and amateur botanist, was the first to discovered the secret of germinating Rooibos seeds, and together with Olof Bergh, a commercial farmer, they started a new cultivation method

Soon the production of Rooibos began on a much larger scale along the slopes of the Cederberg mountain range.

Since then there have been many innovations, including using it in baby creams, developing green Rooibos tea and within making the very first tea espresso in the world. (So now you can have a Rooibos expresso or a Red Cappuccino.)

So how is Rooibos tea actually made?

Traditionally, the bunches of leaves were rolled into hessian bags and brought down from the mountain by donkeys. 

The leaves and fine stems were then chopped with axes and bruised with mallets before being left in heaps to ferment. Once fermented, the Rooibos was spread out to dry in the hot African sun, ready for use as a thirst-quenching drink.

In a way, not much has changed in this whole process, although the methods are now far more refined and mechanised.

Rooibos is typically harvested in the hot summer months of January to April.

Special machines collect the Rooibos, which is then delivered to the factory. Here it is graded according to length, colour, flavour and aroma. This guarantees a high quality across all grades suitable for packing into teabags or loose-leaf form.

Simbavati Cederberg Ridge - rooibos

The last step is the screening, blending and steam treatment, using state-of-the-art equipment. After all this, the finished product is packed in special bags or boxes ready for dispatch to customers all over the world, for further processing and blending.

Experience rooibos during your stay at Cederberg Ridge

Many guests at Cederberg Ridge have been charmed by the story of rooibos tea. So to give them the full rooibos experience, we offer our guests a guided rooibos tea farm tour that includes a tea tasting. We also have a variety of delicious rooibos teas to taste at the lodge and to purchase from our lodge shop. A stay at Simbavati Cederberg Ridge wouldn’t be complete without it!

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