Even avid rooibos drinkers may not know that the bushes' needle-like leaves actually aren't the same color as the finished product that we drink. In reality, the plant looks like your average bush (pictured R). Really, it's the processing that results in the deep redness of traditional rooibos.
Rooibos bushes are generally harvested during the African summer, between January through March, during which the bushes are cut to a height of approximately one foot and the needle-like leaves are processed one of two ways: If the leaves and stems of the bush are dried directly after being cut and crushed, the product is green rooibos (pictured below), which is a light tan color and has a mild “green” flavor, slightly reminiscent of green tea. Perhaps due to the health claims surrounding green tea (especially versus black tea), there are many unsupported claims that green rooibos possesses more antioxidants and health benefits than traditional rooibos.
If the crushed and cut leaves and stems are bruised, heaped and exposed to oxygen before being dried, they will oxidize and take on the red color and signature aroma of traditional rooibos. Historically, the indigenous Khoisan people of South Africa accomplished this process by pounding the rooibos leaves with wooden mallets. These days, the crushing, cutting and bruising is performed by machines. Although some sources refer to the oxidation process as “fermentation,” the term is technically incorrect when used to describe rooibos since enzymes specific to rooibos bring about the process when exposed to oxygen. After drying, the leaves are sorted and graded according to length, color, flavor and aroma, and steam pasteurized before domestic consumption or export. The highest grade of rooibos is referred to as “supergrade;" other leaf styles are marketed as well, such as "long leaf" variety.
At Miro Tea, we offer both traditional and green rooibos in unblended as well as blended, scented and flavored varieties, so if you're after antioxidants, you can have them all!