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Rooibos Flavour Profile

It’s the time of year where we undergo our favourite activity, which is rooibos harvesting. Now, a crucial synergy between temperature, the elements, and time play a role in the harvest’s yield. We look forward to see combination of hand-picked and machine-supported cutting, fermentation, and oxidization of rooibos. This to many, seems like repetitive chores that are unnecessary. There are significant nuances that occur during these various stages which impact every component of the product from the colour in your cup, to the flavours on your tongue. With rooibos, it is important to understand the start before getting to the finish.

So, how does rooibos develop its flavours? A frequently asked question with a complicated process, but simple answer – fermentation! The steps to developing rooibos’ natural flavour profiles are as follows:

  • Freshly cut rooibos is hand-sorted to ensure no weeds or stray vegetation are present.
  • Rooibos gets hand harvested with scythes. Sheaves are then carefully bound into bundles, which are then weighed and transported to the processing yard.
  • The sheaves will then be cut into lengths up to 5mm.
  • Cut Rooibos is piled into heaps across the drying yards. The traditional wording “Sweat heaps” are used. The heaps are watered and crushed (with the wheels of a tractor)to start the natural fermentation process – this step often takes place as early as 5 am in the mornings! Natural air is then passed through the wet cuttings. This is to ensure that all the cuttings are evenly exposed to air for the oxidation process to take place. This step is responsible for the colour change, from green to amber (brick red colour).
  • The natural fermentation of the cuttings is monitored with a thermometer. This takes 6-12 hours.
  • The next morning the fermented tea leaves are spread on to a concrete drying yard to be sun dried.
  • The heated rooibos is collected and sorted into large bags to be weighed and stored. Characteristic flavours like floral, woody and sweet associated (honey/caramel) aromas develops during this fermentation process.
  • The raw tea is then passed to several sieves to get rid of foreign objects and larger uncut sticks.
  • The tea leaves is then separated into different cut sizes. The separated cuts are them temporarily stored. Different cut sizes are blended according to client specifications. The blended tea then moves through a pasteurization chamber where tea leaves are exposed to high pressure steam at 160°C for 90 seconds.
  • The now sterilised, heated rooibos is cooled and filled into bags where its final stage of processing occurs.
  • From each step, different rooibos samples are taken and graded by experienced grading staff. The cut size, colour, taste ,cup infusions, moisture and density are checked against strict specifications. Batches are also analyzed by SANAS accredited laboratories for microbial and pesticide content. Once internally approved, the batches will be analysis by PPECB. They will give the final approval to be exported.


Green rooibos does not get exposed to the oxidation and fermentation steps. Wet rooibos cuttings are immediately dried through hot air to inactivate the natural enzymes that is responsible for enzymatic browning. The original green colour of the dried leaves are retained. The typical sensory profile of unfermented Rooibos are hay/dried grass aroma with a slight astringency. Slight sweet notes are still present.


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