Rooibos sector innovates to respond to growing demand for healthy, specialty teas

The refocusing of priorities amid the global pandemic has put an already buoyant health and wellness market into overdrive. This has spurred the demand for more innovative plant-based products promoting health, which bodes well for our locally grown Rooibos tea. 

Tea is big business. After water, it is the most-consumed drink in the world. Roughly, 25 000 cups of tea are poured every second across the globe, which amounts to a staggering 2.16 billion cups per day!

Nicie Vorster, a director of the SA Rooibos Council (SARC) says the world of tea is becoming more exciting than ever before. 

“With thousands of varieties to choose from, tea has become just as diverse as the world’s cultures, each with its own origin, aroma, taste profile and personality.

“It’s no longer about drinking pots of tea, but rather about choosing an individual cup of high-quality tea that offers an authentic and unique experience. Health and well-being remain core drivers, particularly during the pandemic. Premium teas include: black teas with unique taste profiles, green teas, fruit and herbal tisanes, and ready-to-drink teas (RTDs). The most notable change is a shift in favour of herbal infusions,” he says.  

“Despite the 5 000-year lead that the rest of the tea industry has had; our indigenous Rooibos is catching up. 

“In response to growing consumer demand, the industry has added new twists to the tea in an effort to make Rooibos more premium. Where a few years ago, there were but only a handful of choices, today there are numerous blends of specialty Rooibos infusions on the market, with a clear trend towards more natural ingredients, i.e. real fruit pieces etc.

“Apart from Rooibos being a healthy alternative to regular tea, it is becoming a discerning drink in its own right,” remarks Vorster. “Tea drinkers are looking for naturally-friendly alternatives with earthy flavours, making Rooibos one of the most appreciated teas of late,” he remarks. 

SA-born tea sommelier, Jessica Bonin, who gained experience from studying directly under tea masters in China, Japan and South Korea, says the Rooibos industry has done well to incorporate other beneficial ingredients such as turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and rosehip to its base. “Another clever move was to combine it with other fynbos species like Buchu and Honeybush to boost its appeal among health-conscious tea drinkers. 

“Rooibos infusions have become an exciting addition to the global market, leading to new sensorial experiences for consumers to discover.” 

South Africans still novices at tea-pairing:

While many South Africans are familiar with the basics of wine pairing i.e. white wine goes with fish and red wine with steak, they are stumped when it comes to what to pair tea with. 

Here Bonin shares some tasting notes to demonstrate the range and depth of some of our local Rooibos infusions that have recently exploded onto the scene.

“Pairing tea with food allows one to experience enhanced flavours through the complimentary elements of various ingredients. It presents your palette with a new depth of taste brought about by a specific tea.”

Rooibos & Chamomile has a woody, creamy and peachy taste with honey-floral undertones, which complements anything fruity or sweet, such as scones or shortbread, while the earthy flavour of Green Rooibos complements savoury sandwiches and meat dishes, such as roast lamb or beef. 

“The mellow and tangy mouthfeel of Rooibos & Ginger adds balance to curry or spicy foods, whereas Rooibos & Vanilla pairs beautifully with sponge cakes, custard and sweet tarts.

“The velvety, dusty sweetness of Rooibos & Cinnamon makes it ideal at breakfast time with croissants or scones, while the mildly astringent taste of Rooibos & Buchu matches well with fruit, such as peaches, apples, citrus, prunes, blackcurrant, pineapple and meat dishes. It also goes well with heavy meals. 

Rooibos & Mint is a palate cleanser and acts as a digestive. It is drunk after heavy and rich meals or in-between courses. The bold flavours and rich aroma of Rooibos Chai makes it ideal with anything chocolaty – think dark chocolate, chocolate mousse, chocolate fondant and even works well in meat marinades. It’s also delicious with Brie spread on a toasted baguette. 

Rooibos & Lemon adds a slightly astringent note with a crisp aftertaste that complements honey and ginger, while the luscious syrupy and juicy taste of Rooibos & Berry is always a winner with figs, lavender and even gin! 

“The refreshing taste of Rooibos & Rosehip makes it an ideal afternoon refresher with salads and savoury snacks.

“Rooibos has an incredibly versatile flavour that makes it the perfect base for an array of ingredients. Tea enthusiasts can experiment by adding herbs, fruits, flowers and even spices. The flavour cascades are infinite.”

What your choice in tea says about you

Bonin says teas have always been selected for their unique characteristics and flavour profiles, however our individual inclinations towards different teas are also representative of our personal characteristics.

“Different types of personalities are drawn to different types of tea. Your preference for loose leaf tea over tea bags, and even how you brew your tea and drink it, says a lot about your personality. 

“For every individual, tea has a different meaning. It is an expression of our emotions and who we are. We all associate with its effects, even on a subconscious level. For some, tea-drinking is soothing and healing, while for others, it is invigorating. With so many beneficial compounds, tea creates various states in the body and mind that we then form associations with based on those outcomes. We naturally gravitate toward teas that fulfil the state of being we seek.

“For example, if you’re in a contemplative mood, Rooibos & Chamomile will provide a calming effect, while Rooibos & Lemon is likely to be the blend of choice for those who demand focus. The spontaneous and adventurous among us will likely gravitate toward a berry-blend, whereas warm and caring individuals will find harmony in a cup of chai tea.”

After meticulously studying the various infusions, Bonin has developed a tea personality quiz to help tea lovers find their significant other Rooibos blend. If you’re curious, visit Your answers will shed light on which flavour best pairs up with your personality.