black&white #08: Rooibos, the new champagne
3 min steep
OK it’s not fizzy and alcoholic, but it tastes of where it comes from and it makes you feel good. Last week marked a big step for rooibos when it was added to the EU’s list of products with a protected designation of origin (PDO). It joins other giants of global gastronomy, like champagne, prosciutto di Parma and Feta cheese, plus other iconic teas like Darjeeling and Puerh. We believe this is the first herbal infusion to gain the prestigious PDO designation and is also the first product from an African country. This protected status is only given to products whose quality and production is intrinsically linked to a particular locality, so wine grown in Champagne, France, for example, adheres to strict manufacturing processes, such as grape pressing and vineyard practice.
Rooibos is no different. Grown in the rocky, sun-baked earth of the Cederberg Mountains in South Africa, rooibos leaves have been harvested and drunk by the Khoisan indigenous people for centuries. It wasn’t until 1772, when local communities introduced the tea to Swedish botanist Mr. Carl Thunberg that the tea started to become more well-known around the world. Like champagne and other PDO products, true rooibos is grown following a traditional process specific to that region of South Africa.
Wupperthal Coop Harvest, January 2019
This is fantastic news for the traditional producers. Artisan food and drink products of many regions are often appropriated (without credit given to the local producers) by big corporations hoping to stay on-trend and increase their already massive profits. In 2013, for example, a french company attempted to trademark ‘rooibos’ for their skincare products (they implied the tea’s high levels of antioxidants would improve skin health). Now, only leaves from a designated area north of Cape Town, adhering to specific production rules, can be labelled ‘rooibos’ – and any creative workarounds, for example, ‘Rooibos kind’, ‘Red Bush type’, ‘Rooibos style’ or ‘Red Bush imitation’ are also prohibited. This will give traditional South African producers a huge advantage in Europe, one of the biggest markets in the world. It's good timing too. Rooibos is becoming more and more popular for its extremely high levels of antioxidants, putting it in the “superfood” bracket – and also because it has no caffeine.
Our Canton rooibos is harvested from wild tea bushes by a small co-operative in Wuppertal. And like champagne, you can really taste the terroir; rich date, sweet vanilla and woody sandalwood, all from the sun-baked, rust-coloured earth of the rocky Cederberg mountains. It’s utterly delicious – try it.
- Jennifer Wood, Founder