The “Rooibos Revolution”
Deep in the heart of South Africa, in the mountains and valleys
of the Cederberg region near Cape Town, vast vistas, fields of verdant green bushes,
fill the landscape. Traveling throughout this precipitous expanse, one may
not suspect that this bright bush, which the locals refer to as “Rooibos,” could be such
a versatile and remarkable herb. Rooibos tea remained virtually unheard of
for centuries, known only to the Khoisans, a tribe of South African Bushmen. . . .
The secret of this delicious herb nearly vanished into oblivion due to the
environment and landscape, as the isolated tribe dwindled away and eventually
disappeared. . . . Luckily, Rooibos tea was re-­ d iscovered in 1772 by botanist
Carl Humberg, who then brought it back as a beverage. . . . Thus, the
Worldwide Rooibos Revolution had begun.  — Chris Cason, “Rooibos Tea”
The Cederberg region of South Africa is a dry, seemingly marginal place, with
brown-­ g ray plants that appear to come alive with a brief surprise of color after
the winter rains, only to retreat again to brown-­ g ray when the rains fail and
drought sets in. During the summers I lived in Clanwilliam, a small town that
housed a tea-­ p rocessing plant, the landscape seared with heat and left everyone
searching the sky (or the weather forecast) for rain. Rainfall in the region was
highly variable. Some areas received less than 150 millimeters per year, and
surface water was limited. A sign posted next to a large dam regularly updated
the water level as its capacity decreased daily through the summer — 90 percent,
70 percent, 25 percent — only to rise again in the winter — 30 percent, 75 percent,
98 percent. For residents of this farming region, it was a life measured by cycles.
I first visited the area in the winter of 2009. About three hours of driving
separate Clanwilliam from Africa’s southwestern tip. The journey takes you
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