South African rooibos tea gets global recognition

By Kealeboga Mokomane

6am…9am…12am…3pm…6pm… those were the times my grandmother had her rooibos cup of tea every day – black with one sugar using her porcelain tea.

Tea time with my grandmother was family storytelling time – or simply a chance to catch up on good gossip and updates on her latest visit to collect her pension money. Tea time was more than an opportunity to connect with her but was a ritual that became our family culture for many years.

This naturally sweet, calming and caffeine-free herbal tea, has now not only cemented its place in our homes, but has also joined the likes of Baklava, Halloumi and Feta Cheese by being added to the European Union’s (EU) list of protected agricultural products and foodstuffs. After a decade of making the application, Niecie Voster, the director of the South African Rooibos Council, finally succeeded.

According to the South African Rooibos Council (SARC), rooibos is the second most-consumed drink in the world. Roughly 25 000 cups of tea are being poured every second across the globe, which amounts to a staggering 2,16 billion cups per day. For South Africa, tea is a business that produces 15 000 tons of rooibos per annum to more than 30 countries around the world. Germany, Japan and the Netherlands remain the largest importers of rooibos, closely followed by the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Acccording to SARC, the protected designation of origin (PDO) status, assigned to the tea or “red bush”, means only leaves cultivated in South Africa’s southeast Cederberg region can be sold as “rooibos” in EU countries and several others outside the bloc. Voster stated that the PDO status is meant to protect the name and authenticity of unique geographically-linked products that will allow producers to limit competition from a growing range of non-genuine rooibos teas that have appeared amid rising demand for the caffeine free, antioxidant-rich brew.

This serves as an advantage for South Africa as it offers the Rooibos Council the opportunity to promote the tea more vigorously. Being on the EU list is not only a major victory for the industry, but is also a success factor for the country’s brand. The Rooibos Council is now planning to approach the World Trade Organisation to extend the tea’s newly-found protection to the global market.

Thanks to the Rooibos Council, South Africa can now take ownership of this very unique product. So everytime you have that cup South Africa, savour it with pride as the only officially recognised country of its origin by the European Union.