Red tea: The hottest health drink

Red tea, or rooibos, is the latest healthy drink to hit North American shelves. Find out why you should be drinking it

Red tea: The hottest health drink

Source: Web exclusive: January 2009

Red is the new black when it comes to tea. Like our favourite black and green teas, South African red tea is also high in antioxidants. An added benefit, however, is that red tea is caffeine-free and has none of the associated side effects, such as insomnia and irritability.

The difference begins in the plant world. Both black and green tea comes from the Camellia sinesis plant, while red tea comes from rooibos (Aspalathus linearis), a plant found only in the Cedarberg Mountains of South Africa. According to The Rooibos Council, red tea is actually a herb, technically creating a tisane when brewed.

Red tea: An ancient brew

For the Khoisans, a tribe of South African Bushmen, it’s a centuries-old drink. It was “discovered” by Europeans in 1772, after famed botanist Carl Peter Thunberg made note of it. Shortly thereafter, Dutch settlers began cultivating it as a substitute for black tea, an expensive commodity at the time.

An attempt in the 1930s to introduce red tea to the world ended in disaster, and it took until the ’60s for the tea to be rediscovered. In 1968, a desperate South African mother found that the tea soothed her baby’s colic. Annetjie Theron went on to develop skin care products with rooibos. In 1984, it gained international attention when Japan began marketing rooibos as an anti-ageing product.

New to Canada

Still, red tea has been slow to catch on in North America. That’s about to change, thanks to tea expert Katy Tubb. After discovering red tea’s exceptional flavour, Tubb brought a sample to her employer. As director of worldwide tea buying and blending and company head taster for Tetley Tea, Tubb knows a good cup of tea.

“Red tea has a lovely colour and rich aroma that can be enjoyed with or without milk and sugar. It’s an exotic taste of Africa in every cup and is as unique as its birthplace,” says Tubb. After introducing the tea to Tetley, Tubb helped develop the three flavours the company launched in Canada: Tetley Pure Rooibos, Red Tea Vanilla and Red Tea Red Berry.

Healthy herb

Red tea has also become a popular folk remedy for allergies, sleep disorders, headaches and digestive problems. While many of these claims have not been proven scientifically, researchers have established that it does promote the production of antibodies and delays the recurrence of the herpes simplex virus. A 2005 study found that rooibos protected against the growth of lesions associated with skin cancer. A similar study in 2008, conducted by Dr Jeanine Marnewick of Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), found that rooibos “provided protection against oxidative stress and inflammation associated with the development of heart disease.”

So if you’re looking for a new taste sensation that’s also exceptionally healthy, go red.

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