A Quick Guide to Rooibos and Honeybush Teas

May 19, 2020

by Janelle Wazorick

The world of tea is a colorful world indeed, with the various types being referred to as Black, Green, and White. But among this rainbow of teas is an additional color: Red. While not a true tea but an herbal tea instead, Red Tea or Rooibos and its cousin Honeybush are as close to black tea as you can get without the caffeine content, making it an excellent, late-night alternative to anyone who likes the taste of black tea but doesn’t want to take in the additional caffeine. Put the kettle on: your tea drinking experience is about to get more vibrant.

The Low Caffeine Alternative to Black Tea

Both herbal teas from the southern part of Africa, rooibos and honeybush have a lot in common. Both share similar characteristics with black tea, such as a nutty flavor and a heavily oxidized manufacturing process, but neither has the caffeine content of black tea. Both teas can even be prepared like a typical black tea: many rooibos fans like to add honey, fruit, vanilla, lemon, and even cream and sugar to their rooibos, making the ways to enjoy rooibos as numerous as the number of people who enjoy it. However, unlike black teas or any of the true teas, rooibos and honeybush are very forgiving when it comes to brewing. True teas always carry the risk of over brewing and creating a bitter drink if you’re not careful, but since both rooibos and honeybush are low in tannins, both can be brewed for extended periods of time without the fear of producing a bitter brew while still maintaining its natural sweetness.

Rooibos and Honeybush: Similar But Not Identical

Though rooibos and honeybush have a lot in common, they are two different beverages. While people have used Rooibos for thousands of years for medicinal purposes, the use of rooibos as a hot beverage became popular in the late 1800s among the Dutch settlers in South Africa as an affordable alternative to black tea which had to be imported from Asia. Rooibos grows well in dry climates with periods of heavy rainfall producing needle-like leaves to retain water in the dry climate. It is typically harvested in the summer. Traditional rooibos is heavily oxidized after harvest, producing a sweet, nutty flavor with a reddish-brown colored brew. Rooibos connoisseurs swear by Rooibos’ antioxidants as well as its ability to ease headaches, nervous tension, and insomnia.

In addition to the traditional, oxidized rooibos, there is also an unoxidized version called “Green Rooibos”. Following a similar production process to green tea, Green Rooibos has a slightly grassy flavor and is as close to the raw rooibos plant as you can get. Just like with green tea, the rooibos leaves used for Green Rooibos are heated after harvest to prevent oxidation, preserving its natural antioxidants. This mellower rooibos is a great starting point for fans of green tea looking to enter the world of rooibos.
Honeybush, Rooibos’ sweeter cousin, lives up to its name by having an even sweeter natural taste than Rooibos, typically described as floral, roasted, and light. Honeybush comes from the Cyclopia plant, which has yellow, honey-scented flowers. Packed with Vitamin C, Potassium, Calcium, and Magnesium, Honeybush is said to decrease blood sugar, aid in the management of diabetes and menopause, and is used as a cough remedy.

How to Brew

Whether you choose to drink traditional Rooibos, Green Rooibos, or Honeybush, they can all be brewed the same way as a typical black tea. Simply brew a teaspoon of your choice of rooibos or honeybush in boiling water for around five minutes. You can adjust the brewing time for your taste preference, brewing longer for a stronger tea or shorter for a milder tea. Additionally, you can add other flavors to the tea yourself, such as fruit or spices, or purchase pre-mixed blends. Rooibos and Honeybush also take sugar, honey, milk, and cream well, so feel free to customize your rooibos experience.


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