Benjamin Ginsberg, founder of the Rooibos industry, honoured with two exhibitions
In 2015, two exhibitions were hosted to honour Benjamin Ginsberg, founder of the Rooibos industry. The first was in Latvia and the second in Clanwilliam.
The Latvian exhibition celebrated the Ginsberg family's Russian roots in what was the Baltic Russian military city of Dvinsk, now Daugavpils. Held in the magnificent Rothko Museum, a converted fortress from the 19th century, the exhibition told the story of Benjamin's journey from Moscow – where he was born in 1886 – to the Cederberg, and how he established the Rooibos industry. Bruce Ginsberg, Benjamin's grandson who managed the family's Clanwilliam farms in the 1970s, gave the exhibition's opening address to a crowd of local dignitaries and journalists. Bruce's daughter, Georgia Ginsberg, who is now Marketing Director of the UK's leading Rooibos brand Tick Tock, gave a presentation on five generations of Ginsbergs and their involvement in the Rooibos trade.
As part of the recent Heritage Symposium hosted in Clanwilliam, the Ginsberg family contributed a display about Benjamin and the family's role in the Rooibos story, and his creation of the very first successful Rooibos brand, Eleven O'Clock. More than just a commercial pioneer, Benjamin also conducted experiments to refine the wild tea into a product of reliable quality. Over a hundred years later, Rooibos is still largely made to his original specifications.
In 1903, Benjamin joined his father, Aron Ginsberg, in the Cederberg. A former warrant officer in the Tsar's army, Aron, who had arrived several years earlier, was already trading in Cederberg mountain products. Benjamin soon became fascinated by the wild Rooibos plant, dreaming of turning the region into the "Ceylon of Africa". He started buying wild Rooibos and reselling it far beyond the region's borders.
Drawing on tea knowledge learned from his Moscow tea trader uncle with whom he stayed while studying in Moscow, Benjamin conducted experiments to refine the crude, inconsistent wild tea into a product of reliable quality, colour and cut. Using traditional Chinese tea-making techniques, he placed "bruised" wild Rooibos in barrels to control the oxidation, later heaping it on a hard floor as the British were doing in India. By the 1920s, Rooibos was no longer sold loose from chests or bags, but packed in small packets or tins. To guarantee quality, their Rooibos was sold under the brand name Eleven O'Clock, the first ever commercial Rooibos tea brand.
Benjamin Ginsberg's son Henry Charles "Chas" Ginsberg, who became the first person to plant Rooibos on a truly agricultural scale, was Clanwilliam's largest Rooibos farmer for many decades. Today, his grandson Bruce Ginsberg and great granddaughter Georgia Ginsberg continue the family Rooibos tradition with Eleven O'Clock and Tick Tock in the UK and around the world.