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Rooibos, also known as Rooibus (pronounced /ˈrɔɪbɒs/, like “roy-boss” or “rai-bosh” or “roy-bosh” in different South African dialects), Afrikaans for “red bush”; scientific name Aspalathus linearis) is a broom-like member of the legume family of plants and is used to make a tisane (herbal tea). Commonly called South African red tea, the product has been popular in South Africa for generations and is now consumed in many countries.
Rooibos is only grown in a small area in the Cederberg region of the Western Cape province. Generally, the leaves are oxidized, or often inaccurately referred to as fermented, to produce the distinctive reddish-brown color, but unoxidized “green” rooibos is also produced.
In South Africa it is more usual to drink rooibos with milk and sugar, but elsewhere it is usually served without. The flavor of rooibos tea is often described as being sweet (without sugar added) and slightly nutty. Preparation of rooibos tea is essentially the same as black tea save that the flavor is improved by longer brewing. The resulting brew is a reddish brown color, perhaps explaining why rooibos is sometimes referred to as “red tea.”
Several coffee shops in South Africa have recently begun to sell rooibos espresso, which is concentrated rooibos served and presented in the style of ordinary espresso (which is normally coffee-based). This has given rise to rooibos-based variations of coffee drinks such as red lattes and red cappuccinos.
Rooibos is becoming more popular in Western countries particularly amongst health-conscious consumers, who appreciate it for its high level of antioxidants such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), its lack of caffeine and its very low tannin levels (since tannins can affect the metabolism by decreasing absorption of certain nutrients like iron and protein) as opposed to fully oxidized black tea or unoxidized green tea leaves. The unoxidized—green—version of rooibos theoretically contains more intact antioxidants.