The word “rooibos” comes from the Afrikaans language and means “red bush.” Other names for rooibos are “bush tea,” “red bush tea,” “South African red tea,” or simply “red tea”. Rooibos is actually a legume: a bean plant called Aspalathus linearis. The leaves and stems are harvested during the summer and then left to “ferment” (technically “oxidize”), a process in which, among other things, the leaves shift from a yellow appearance to the characteristic red color and then dried.
Drinking rooibos “tea” began with the Dutch. Black tea was popular in eighteenth-century South Africa, but the Dutch had limited access leading them to come up with an alternative: rooibos. This tea-alternative remained popular in South Africa for a couple hundred years, but did not become a commercial crop until the early 20th century. A gentleman named Benjamin Ginsburg immigrated to South Africa in 1904, and, being the scion of a prominent family in the European tea trade, was immediately interested in rooibos. Ginsburg borrowed traditional Chinese methods for curing tea, and perfected the art of curing rooibos.