Rooibos tea history: From local drinks to world-famous herbal teas

rooibos tea history

As an ancient herbal tea, rooibos tea history spans hundreds of years. It’s a traditional South African tea that’s been around for centuries, and since the early 2000s, it’s become increasingly popular around the world.


In the present day, Rooibos tea has gained significant recognition across the globe. However, few people know the interesting historical story of this herbal tea. Originating from the untamed peaks of Cederberg, located in South Africa, Rooibos tea was initially cultivated and gathered by indigenous tribes. Remarkably, this tea possesses a multitude of health advantages and stands as a remarkable success in the agricultural industry of South Africa. In this article, let’s explore the rooibos tea history. 

Rooibos tea history

Rooibos has a long history, beginning more than 300 years ago when European explorers recorded the plant as being used by the Khoisan people. Rooibos tea is a special kind of tea that comes from a plant called Aspalathus linearis. This plant only grows in the Western Cape area of South Africa. Rooibos is commercially grown, but it is not domesticated. 

Rooibos tea history is recorded in 1772 when botanist Carl Thunberg witnessed the wild harvesting of rooibos by the local Khoisan tribe. He observed as the Khoisan people went up the mountains to collect plants and turn them into herbal products. While the people of Khoisan made tea from the rooibos tea leaves, it was very different from the rooibos tea we have now. Later, settlers in the area applied their knowledge of traditional tea production processes from Asian teas such as leaf bruising and oxidation, resulting in the tea we know today. It became a popular choice among the locals, as it was much more affordable than the high-priced black tea imported from Asia.

In the rooibos tea history of development, the rooibos tea industry developed in 1904, when a Russian immigrant, Benjamin Ginsberg, invented the rooibos tea curing (or ‘sweating’ or fermentation) process used today, after much experimentation. Ginsberg began selling and marketing the drink as a herbal alternative to traditional tea. After going through many difficulties and shortages of supply, in 1930, Dr Pieter Lafras Nortier developed a strain of rooibos that could be farmed. Thus, the rooibos tea industry has now thrived not only domestically but also in export markets.

rooibos tea history (2)
                                                       Aspalathus linearis

Rooibos tea processing


The Rooibos harvest season occurs during the summer months in the Southern Hemisphere, spanning from December to March. It reaches its peak towards the end of December or the beginning of January. To begin the harvesting process, skilled workers employ sickles to carefully cut the Rooibos plants. Once the plants have been harvested, they are transported to the factory where they undergo careful sorting to ensure only the highest quality leaves are selected. After that, rooibos are fed into a cutting machine to maintain a consistent length throughout the batch.


To facilitate the oxidation process, rooibos tea will be bruised, aired, and watered to activate the chemical process of enzymatic oxidation. The rooibos are then left in small piles to undergo fermentation. During this fermentation process, a transformation occurs as the tea transitions from a vibrant green hue to the iconic brick red color of rooibos tea. Furthermore, this enzymatic oxidation also plays a crucial role in creating rooibos with its unique and recognizable flavor profile, as well as its pleasantly sweet aroma. The fermentation takes between one and two days depending on the temperature and humidity. In some cases, fermentation may be completed the same day that it was spread out.

Drying, packaging, and storage

The rooibos are then spread out across the tea court to dry 100% naturally under the hot African sun. Special machines are employed to gather the dried rooibos, which are subsequently transported to the factory for further processing. Here, it is screened, blended, and then graded based on various criteria such as length, color, flavor, and aroma. The finished Rooibos are finally packed in paper bags, bulk bags, or vacuum boxes, ensuring they are ready to be sent off to customers worldwide.

rooibos tea history (3)
                                                             Red rooibos tea history

How did rooibos tea become so popular?

Outstanding rooibos tea benefits

Rooibos tea gained widespread recognition for its numerous health advantages, yet its discovery remained relatively unknown until the year 1968, when the rooibos tea history started. That year, Dr. Annique Theron stumbled upon the remarkable effectiveness of rooibos tea in alleviating her child’s colic. This is also mentioned in the book named Allergies: A Surprising Discovery, unveiling the ability of rooibos tea to soothe allergies in infants. Thus, rooibos tea gained popularity, igniting a surge of scientific exploration into its diverse medicinal properties.

Affordable price compared to black tea

Initially, South Africa’s first-nation people mainly used rooibos for medicinal purposes. However, as time progressed, the production and preparation methods of red rooibos tea gained popularity. The allure of this beverage stemmed from its less expensive price compared to black tea, which had to be imported from the Eastern regions. Rooibos gradually became a staple in South African households during World War II when the Camellia sinensis plant was in short supply, and the locals turned to rooibos as an alternative. 

rooibos tea history (4)
                               Rooibos is less expensive price than black tea

What is the consumption trend of rooibos tea in the modern marketplace?

Along with the surging trend of convenience, there has been a heightened focus on health concerns, especially after the pandemic. Since then, the demand for ready-to-drink nutritional beverages has been growing, as consumers seek out a solution that addresses both the need for convenience and the desire for improved well-being. This trend has extended to the introduction of ready-to-drink rooibos tea, which has quickly become a popular choice in today’s fast-paced society, offering a convenient and accessible solution for individuals leading busy lives.

The current trend in the beverage industry is a significant shift from sugary and caffeinated drinks to more upscale and flavorful ready-to-drink (RTD) products. These new RTD beverages are made with natural ingredients that not only enhance the taste but also provide additional health benefits. As a result, this market segment is experiencing rapid growth, driven by the increasing consumption of Millennials and Generation Z. In line with this shift, RTD rooibos tea is becoming increasingly popular and finding its way into our daily lives.

Where to buy ready-to-drink rooibos tea?

If you are looking for ready-to-drink rooibos tea at a competitive price, Future Generation Co., Ltd is a prestigious supplier you should consider. With over 27 years of experience in the Food and Beverage field and more than 1000 partners worldwide, FGC has been the leading tea and beverage supplier in Vietnam.

With Rooibos Tea, we can produce OEM products according to customers’ requirements. We commit to providing:

  • Professional R&D department: Seasoned staff in our R&D team will assist in researching, testing, and developing new beverage products.
  • Diverse packing types: FGC can provide, design, and consult customers to choose the most suitable and trendy product packaging.
  • High production capacity: Our cutting-edge machine lines including TetraPak Aseptic and PET hot-fill technology ensure a high and stable capacity (>40,000 liter/hour).
  • International quality standards: We select all the ingredients from high-quality and organic sources. The production is certificated by VietGAP, ISO, HACCP, HALAL, KOSHER, etc.
rooibos tea history
                                          Ready-to-drink rooibos tea by FGC

If you are interested in our products, please do not hesitate to send us an inquiry through email: FGC’s Sales Department will respond as soon as possible once we receive your call/message to assist you with the matcha mint tea formula, packaging, import procedure, sample submission, and quotation. After discussing the price and other terms of the contract, we will sign the contract and make a shipment for you.


Address: R4 building, Office Quarter 02, Royal City, 72A Nguyen Trai St., Thanh Xuan Dist., Hanoi.

Phone: +84 24 73 000 125/ +84 24 73 063 369







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