As I sit in a San Francisco coffee shop writing about rooibos tea, the plant’s
growing region seems even farther away than the two ten-­hour flights to South
Africa’s Western Cape. Music blares while hipsters with tight jeans, hooded
sweatshirts, and baseball caps with ironic messages such as “I Wall Street”
pour specialty coffees and serve house-­ m ade baked goods. Dozens of hopeful
young entrepreneurs type on their laptops, surrounding me with the energy of
the “second tech boom.” At the counter, the menu advertises Five Mountains
Tea. Listed second, under “Nile Valley Chamomile” and above the more local
“Pacific Peppermint,” is “Cedarburg1 Rooibos.” One cup costs $2.50 — or, at
the current exchange rate, about twenty South African rands. Why the high
price? The menu advertises “single origin, heirloom, sustainable” tea with fla-
vors of “malty grains, cedar, raisins.” It is “not caffeinated but high antioxidant.”
What does heirloom rooibos mean, I wonder? What does the company mean
by “sustainable”?
Curious, I use the coffee shop’s free Internet to peruse Five Mountains Tea’s
website. It calls rooibos the “world’s first tea (tisane/herbal) from the South
African Khoisan tribe.” Under its certification labels (usda Organic, Single
Origin, Sustainable Harvest, and a fourth that is too blurry to read), the web-
site provides details about the tea:
Varietal: Aspalathus Linearis. In the legume family, Rooibos (Red
Bush), fine needle like leaves
Profile: malty grains, cedar, raisin
Process: Sustainably harvested legume withered indoors lightly
rolled fully oxidized re-­ r olled re-­ w ithered fully dried
Attributes: Non-­ c affeinated, antioxidant rich, calming, low tannins.
Rich in vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, calcium and iron
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