Dr Sally Bayley.
Few teas are as pretty and pleasing to look at as S. Africa Redbush tea. Pour it into a glass and watch it glow amber-to-red. Its natural sweetness makes it drinkable without milk, but it also tastes surprisingly good with soya milk (which doesn’t taste much good anywhere else), and the overall effect is faintly toffee-like without any of the cloying sugariness. Redbush tea has crept onto supermarket shelves in the last few years as a better-for-you rival to our regular builder’s tea or English Breakfast. Most popular tea companies are pushing their redbush brand; even Tetley has come out with some exotic packaging to promote their Redbush brand: a Turkish carpet design swirling across their red Redbush Tea box.
I want to defend Redbush or rooibos tea as an outstanding choice of alternative tea. Drawn from the South African herb, Aspalathus linearis, redbush is a rare and delicate plant whose brilliant yellow piney leaves harvested in the summer turns, during the Autumn months, a deep red colour. But redbush is not a tea plant but a legume, a relative of the bean family, rich in antioxidants and flavonoids and free from caffeine. The alleged health benefits of redbush tea – anti-allergenic, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic – certainly make drinking a cup more of a virtuous kick than black tea. For someone with a strongly developed tea habit, several cups of redbush tea a day can mitigate the unsettling sense of knowing you are polluting your bodily temple with caffeine and tannin.
After black tea, redbush is undoubtedly the best tasting non-caffeinated tea. Unlike green tea, it won’t leave a bitter taste in your mouth; green tea, in my opinion, is only palatable with honey. How many cups of green tea have I left hanging about the kitchen sink in a noble (masochistic) effort to drink something other than my favourite English Breakfast or Assam? Redbush tea with vanilla extract is a variant of the popular redbush range: Twinning and Dragonfly Tea both make good redbush vanilla teas and bring an extra layer of sweetshop sweetness to a tea you can imagine drinking into your old age.