In South Africa, the only country that produces Rooibos, 350 farmers grow it as a crop. Australia and California (United States) tried to grow Rooibos, but failed.
Rooibos is harvested when temperatures are high, by workers who often come from neighbouring countries.
Although rooibos has been consumed for centuries, it has only been grown in recent times. In the mid-19th century, a German priest from Namibia founded the village of Wupperthal in South Africa. He imposed strict rules on the community and set about organising the cultivation of rooibos. Halfway between the Cape and Namibia, Wupperthal is in the middle of the desert. Rooibos, or Aspalathus lineari, is about as undemanding as a camel, and can withstand extreme heat without complaint. The plant’s roots push deep into the ground, which helps it find nourishment. Wupperthal is worth a visit. It’s a journey of several hours along a difficult track, which nonetheless offers some beautiful views for those who like their landscapes arid.
The tea plant is an evergreen and its leaves do not change colour when the cold weather pervades after the summer. So, to bring you some seasonal autumn colour, I have chosen an image of rooibos leaves drying on the ground, spread out in very thin layers, oxidising after being watered.
Some South African farmers have just sent me this photo taken last month during the rooibos harvest. I’m in the middle, and the temperature was close to 40 degrees. The working conditions aren’t easy in this region, which is so arid in the summer that almost the only things that grow are stones and sand.
When, in the evening, I drink a cup of this infusion that is completely free of caffeine and theine, I think of them and the joy it gave me to discover such wonderful landscapes and people.
There are different grades of rooibos, but not much difference between them. However, the “long cut” offers the most interesting experience in terms of fine flavours and powerful aromas. It is the most harmonious. It is the only grade I have bought for years.
An amusing detail: for rooibos tastings in South Africa, the cups are lit from beneath in order to judge the clarity of the liquor.
As soon as they are plucked, the rooibos shoots are cut and sprinkled with water. Then the oxidation process can begin. This takes place outside and causes the leaves to change colour, from green to brown. When it has oxidised to the right degree, the rooibos is spread out on the ground in a fairly thin layer, so it can dry in the sun.
The rooibos harvest has begun, and I am happy to be here. The harvest lasts less than two months. South Africa is the only country that produces rooibos, a plant sometimes known as “red tea”, but which is not a tea at all.
Rooibos is rich in antioxidants and is completely free of caffeine. It is my favourite drink before going to bed.
It is only 38 degrees centigrade at the moment in this desert of stone and sand, situated three hours’ drive north-west of Cape Town (South Africa). This temperature is relatively clement, as rooibos is often harvested at around 45 degrees. The heat does not bother Aspalathus lineari, also known as rooibos. With roots that bury themselves to depths of up to four metres, the bushes seek coolness deep in the ground. I wish I could do the same!