Raw Materials Rooibos


08/30/13 14:06:26 (2 comments)

by: Dr. Chandra Shekhar Gupta

Botanical name: Aspalathus linearis
Family name: Fabaceae
Commercial names: Rooibos tea, Red bush tea, African red tea, Mountain tea


The genus Aspalathus has over 200 species and is indigenous to South Africa. Aspalathus linearis is the only species of this genus which has economic value. The plant is a shrublike bush either prostrate or erect with a central, smooth-barked main stem. From the ground level, the stem subdivides into a number of strong offshoots, followed by delicate side branches each bearing, singly or in clusters, soft, needle like leaves. The yellow flowers, which appear in spring to early summer, are solitary or arranged in dense groups at the tips of branches. The fruit is a small lance-shaped pod usually containing one or two tough seeds.

The plant height at maturity varies from 1 to 2 meters in its natural state, while the height of cultivated plants varies from 0.5 to 1.5 metres. It depends on the age of the plant, as well as the climate and soil conditions in the area of production. Rooibos is grown at a varying altitude of approximately 300 to 600 metres above sea level.

It is the source of Rooibos tea and found in the western mountainous parts of the Western Cape. Rooibos tea has a unique flavor and no colorants, additives or preservatives and is free from caffeine.


Tea shoots are sliced into 3 to 4 mm lengths, placed in a fermenter and bruised by late afternoon, followed by addition of water, further bruising and mixing. Bruising and addition of water are necessary to accelerate “fermentation,” which is initiated during shredding. The water also serves to extract polyphenols, acting to color the stems when absorbed. Fermentation takes place during the night and the heap is spread open to dry in the sun the following morning. Fermentation can take from 8 to 24 hours, with an average fermentation time of 12 to 14 hours, depending on the climatic conditions, the composition of the plant material and processing conditions. During fermentation the aroma of the wet tea changes from resinous, hay-like and grassy to sweet, apple-like or honey caramel to sour depending on the stage of fermentation. As soon as the characteristic sweet, honey-like aroma and red brown color of the tea are fully developed, the product is spread open in a thin layer (15-20 mm) to dry in the sun. The development of a sour aroma is indicative of over-fermentation.

Chemical Constitutes – The main chemical components of Aspalathus linearis  essential oil are aspalathin, nothofagin, caffeic acid, chrysoeriol, isoquercitrin, orientin, isoorientin, luteolin, vitexin, isovitexin, luteolin, rutin, flavonoids, quercetin and polyphenols.


Aspalathus linearis is utilising by the indigenous people of the Cederberg area and now it is universally accepted and is currently is a very popular tea.

• It is also used as an ingredient in cosmetics, as a flavoring agent in baking, cooking and cocktails.

• Rooibos tea was considered healthy, based on the fact that it was “harmless and satisfying” due to the absence of alkaloids and low tannin content.


Dr. Chandra Shekhar Gupta

Dr. Chandra Shekhar is a botanist, plant pathologist and nature-loving person. Dr. Shekkar works as an Assistant Scientific Officer at the National Institute of Plant Health Management, Ministry of Agriculture, Hyderabad, India.

A Fragrantica writer since 2011, Dr. Shekhar contributes educational content about raw materials (plants).




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Thank you for the article - Rooibos is really a wonder to any of you who haven't tried this before. I remember working with some South Africans when I was living in New York. I was in an apartment in Brooklyn, and my friend from Durban made me a cup of rooibos tea. I thought I'd gone to heaven, it was so delicious. The flavor is so incredibly complex, at one moment fruity, another moment very smoky, and then again, very hay-like and grassy. It's an amazing discovery, and thanks for this analysis.


Rooibos is one of my favorites! Chai is the other. It is one of those teas that really help when I feel sick. Tazo Organic Vanilla Rooibos Red Tea Latte Concentrate and Coconut Lavender Rooibos from Tea District are fantastic.


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