The Story of Rooibos

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From its humble origins in the rugged Cederberg region of the Western Cape, the Rooibos industry has charted phenomenal growth, accumulating a history as colourful as the land from which it comes.

  • 1610: Dutch traders were the first to import tea to Europe from China.
  • 1652: The Dutch East India Company (VOC) established a refreshment station at the Cape of Good Hope for the sailors that plied the trade routes between Europe and Asia. They brought with them the culture of tea drinking. Early settlers began to augment the expensive Chinese tea with leaves from the local Fynbos shrubs.
  • 1660: The first pioneer explorers ventured into the Cederberg and Olifants River Valley.
  • 1700 to 1800: Migrants and settlers in the Cederberg area discovered that the fine, needle-like leaves of the Aspalathus linearis plant make a tasty, aromatic tea. The leaves and fine stems were chopped with axes and bruised with mallets before being left in heaps to ferment. Once fermented, the Rooibos was spread out to dry in the hot African sun, ready for use as a thirst-quenching drink. Today, Rooibos is still processed in much the same way, but of course, these methods are now mechanised and far more refined.
  • 1904: Benjamin Ginsberg, a Russian immigrant and pioneer in the area, became interested in Rooibos and realised its marketing potential. He started trading it from the local farmers. The fact that Ginsberg came from a family who had been in the tea industry in Europe for centuries provided him with the know-how to market this new “mountain tea”.
  • 1930: By 1930, Dr P le Fras Nortier, the local medical doctor and keen botanist, had discovered the secret of germinating Rooibos seeds. Together with Olof Bergh, a commercial farmer, he developed new cultivation methods and soon the production of Rooibos began on a much larger scale along the slopes of the Cederberg mountain range.
  • 1948: The Rooibos producers established the Clanwilliam Tea Cooperative in 1948 when the Rooibos market collapsed after the Second World War.
  • 1954: At the request of the Cooperative, the Minister of Agriculture appointed the Rooibos Tea Control Board in 1954. The Control Board’s task was to regulate marketing, stabilise prices, and improve and standardise quality. A new era began for the Rooibos industry, as the Board’s leadership guided the industry towards stability and prosperity. Since that time, the industry has made steady progress, refining its production methods and increasing distribution so that the unique goodness of Rooibos can be enjoyed by people the world over.
  • 1993: The Rooibos Tea Control Board was converted into the fully privatised company Rooibos Limited.
  • 1999: Rooibos Ltd receives its organic certification for the first time, enabling us to meet the ever-changing needs of the market more fully.
  • 2003: Green Rooibos (unfermented Rooibos) is produced by Rooibos Ltd.
  • 2004: Rooibos Ltd expands its horizons by taking Honeybush Natural Products Pty. Ltd on board as a subsidiary to become the trusted supplier of Honeybush to in excess of 45 countries worldwide. 
  • 2007: Rooibos Ltd answers the call of consumers for product that brings about social upliftment and growth in their community, by becoming Fair Trade certified.
  • 2009: A new cookbook, A touch of Rooibos, is launched. What makes this book unique is that 14 of South Africa’s top chefs contributed recipes in which they use Rooibos as an ingredient to show its versatility in cooking.
  • 2010: Rooibos Ltd adds both UTZ and Rainforest Alliance certified product to our stable, further expanding on an ethos of sustainability and upliftment.
  • 2011: Rooibos Ltd opened a factory to produce extracts.
  • 2014: Rooibos Ltd distributes Rooibos to over 45 countries around the world.
  • 2019: To keep up with required standards to manage food safety risks and provide safe products, Rooibos Ltd receives the Food Safety System Certification 22000 (FSSC 22000).
  • 2020: Rooibos Ltd launches a website for Honeybush Natural Products Pty. Ltd.