South Africa is famous for its rooibos tea. Its been around for many generations and many South Africans will recall their parents and grandparents brewing rooibos tea in enamel teapots. Today, the trend is to drink rooibos tea with a slice of lemon and some honey or even cold as ice tea with some fruit blends. Internationally, the tea has became popular as a herbal tea, with an association to the African continent.
Rooibos, or redbush tea as it is known by some international markets, is produced from the Aspalatus plant species, an indigenous species to South Africa, forming part of the fynbos biome. The Aspalatus species is well adapted to the environmental conditions of the drier parts of South Africa’s Western Cape; the only region in the world where this tea-plant grows naturally, harvested and produced.
This tea plant is often studied by ecologists and scientists, not only for its ecological adaptation to the dry and low nutrient regions where this plant is found, but also for the rooibos tea produced from this plant, which is brimming with nutritional and health benefits. The most prominent health benefit is the absence of caffeine and very low amounts of tannin. Caffeine and tannin are two prominently problematic components associated with other teas. Rooibos tea is also increasingly promoted as a cancer preventive measure. During 2005, Science in Africa reported that rooibos tea stimulates liver enzymes which are able to break down carcinogens in the human body.
Rooibos tea’s wild taste, nutrition and health benefits and cancer fighting properties, have made it a booming industry for South Africa. The current financial value of the rooibos tea industry is estimated at about 600 million South Africa Rand (78 million US dollar). Quite remarkable considering the industry has grown from a naturally occurring plant, in one small corner of the country, and all harvesting is done by hand. There is however one very significant threat to the industry, with no easy solution: climate change.
It is predicted that South Africa’s Western Cape can expect dramatic changes in the coming century, with hot and dry weather prevailing in this region… How exactly the rooibos tea industry will cope with the expected changes in climate is uncertain. Whether the industry will be able to supply the increasingly global demand, with climate difficulties looming, remains another main uncertainty and concern. Is our favourite tea fields losing grounds?