Red Tea: The Fermented, Caffeine-Free Super Herb Tea

Red Tea: The Fermented, Caffeine-Free Super Herb Tea

As my followers know, I’m a huge advocate of getting as many herbs into your diet as possible. Where else can we find a wide biodiversity of unique phyto (plant) nutrients completely unchanged from those consumed by our hunting and gathering prehistoric ancestors? We need our super herbs to protect our health more than ever in this era of toxins polluting our air, water and food!

Let’s take a deep dive into an herb that is so unique, it grows only on the tip of South Africa and even there, only in one small region called Clanwilliam. It’s also the only herbal tea that goes through a fermentation process similar to black tea, which turns its green needles into a deep shade of rusty red.

It also happens to be an herb with which I’m intimately familiar. Back in the late ‘90s, I brought it to the United States’ tea drinking world after it had been forgotten due to the ban on importing South African products during Apartheid.

We’re talking about rooibos (pronounced roy-bows), the red tea. Here’s the story about this super herb tea that is the base of the best caffeine-free chai teas including Teeccino Dandelion Red Chai!

My rooibos story

In the mid 90’s, I was working on a new line of chai teas for The Republic of Tea and I wasn’t going to be happy if I only had a black chai and a green chai. Being a lover of the pungent power of spices to stimulate our digestive system, I needed a caffeine-free chai that caffeine sensitive people like myself could enjoy too.

But what would produce the body that a chai tea must have? I had to go back in my memory for an herb I loved in the 70’s. As a young twenty-something, I had the fun job of exploring developing countries in search of people harvesting herbs that Celestial could put in its teas.

Maybe your memory doesn’t go back that far, but before Celestial Seasoning launched its archetypal herbal teas, there weren’t any teas made from herbs sold in the USA, period!

I have always loved milk in my tea. In those days, I drank Celestial’s Roastaroma herbal tea, a predecessor to both Teeccino and chai tea, with its roasted background mixed with spices. But when I met Bruce Ginsberg, a S. African whose Russian grandfather had “discovered” an exotic tea pioneered by the Bushmen and Khoisan tribes of the Cape region in S. Africa, it was love at first sip.

You see, rooibos, which literally means ‘red bush”, goes through a natural fermentation process upon harvesting that turns it into a full-bodied tea. Enough body in fact to be married with milk, which is what most herbal teas are lacking.

Importing rooibos from South Africa

Fast forward to the 90s and I knew rooibos would make the perfect caffeine-free chai. But no one was bringing it into the US. By then, Bruce had capitalized on his grandfather’s knowledge on how to propagate rooibos and he was exporting tons around the world. He also had a booming rooibos tea business in the UK. No small feat, I must say, as the Brits love their black tea. But rooibos was making big inroads because its earthy, rich flavor is so appealing and the absence of caffeine allows it to be enjoyed any time of the day.

Bruce’s grandfather had cracked the secret of how to propagate this wild plant, which only grows exclusively in one small region in the whole world. The challenge was collecting the miniscule seeds that are flung far and wide into the sandy soil when the seed pods opened.

It turned out that a native Khoisan woman collected the most seeds by following ants carrying them to their burrows. From there, a method of controlling the natural fermentation of rooibos was developed to produce the richest flavor enabling rooibos to become an internationally renowned tea.

Introducing rooibos tea as “the red tea” to American tea drinkers

Once I made Red Chai for The Republic of Tea, I started creating a number of rooibos-based teas. Recognizing that I was the only tea designer working with rooibos in the US, the South African grower cooperative, Rooibos Ltd., asked my opinion as to how to reintroduce rooibos to the American public. They were selling hundreds of tons to many other countries but less than 10 tons to the US.

With their funding, I launched a public relations campaign and gave rooibos the tagline, “Red tea, the caffeine-free alternative to black and green tea.” It was a hit!

We got terrific press coverage. Editors loved writing about rooibos because not only did it have this delicious flavor, but it also had a lot of science showing its far-ranging health benefits. Those health benefits that have continued to propel rooibos’s popularity with tea drinkers.

Health benefits from rooibos tea

Back to the best reason to include herbs and spices in your daily diet: they have unique phytonutrients and health benefits that we can’t get anywhere else from the plants we normally eat. Rooibos is a perfect example of this.

Unique polyphenols

First, rooibos is the only plant in the world that contains aspalathin, a polyphenol with antioxidant properties that has inspired scientists to study this plant’s health benefits with amazing results. It seems that aspalathin may help manage blood sugar as studies in Japan have shown. Just recently a young girl reported on social media that once she started giving a daily cup of rooibos tea to her diabetic dog, he was back to his normal self!

Additionally, rooibos has over 40 other polyphenols with antioxidant activity. It also contains superoxide dismutase (SOD), an enzyme that protects against oxidant-induced damage, functioning as a prime scavenger of free radicals and preventing fats from changing into harmful lipid peroxide.

An abundance of essential nutrients

Rooibos is high in vitamin C, bioflavonoids, and a number of minerals including: iron, potassium, calcium, copper, zinc, magnesium, fluoride, and manganese. Studies have shown that rooibos helps strengthen bones, veins and arteries for which these nutrients are essential. It also contains chrysoeriol, a flavonoid that Korean scientists found to help regulate blood pressure by affecting the hormones released by the adrenal glands.

Flavonoids that ease inflammation and indigestion

A number of other important flavonoids are found in rooibos tea including aspalathin, rutin, quercetin, luteolin, and orientin. Quercetin and luteolin are known for their anti-inflammatory properties which may be the reason why rooibos is reputed to help people with seasonal allergies. They also help ease cramps which has given rooibos tea a reputation for helping people with digestive complaints and for its ability to soothe colicky babies.

Alpha hydroxy acids for skin care

You may have found rooibos in a number of skin creams because its alpha hydroxy acids are mild acids that gently exfoliate the skin to reduce wrinkles. You can easily make yourself a wash of rooibos tea to use as a toner on your skin!

Appetite reduction

Now if all of that isn’t enough reason to include teas with rooibos in your daily diet, here’s yet another: rooibos tea helps increase the production of leptin which is a hormone that makes you feel full. That’s right. It reduces your appetite. It also increases the metabolism of your fat cells and prevents new ones from forming.

Pour me a cup of rooibos tea, please!

If you compare rooibos tea to green tea, you’ll find that it has many of the same health benefits without the caffeine. Its antioxidant capacity is higher than black tea but a little lower than green tea.

However, now there is even a “green” unfermented rooibos tea which has equivalent antioxidant properties to green tea (which is also unfermented). Green rooibos has a grassier flavor than red rooibos tea, so I don’t add milk to it but I’ve created a number of delicious tasting green rooibos teas too.

Teeccino Dandelion Red Chai is the first tea in the Teeccino line to contain rooibos. Since it is one of my favorite super herb teas, I hope you’ll enjoy a cup of it soon!


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