Rooibos vs. Honeybush: What's the Difference?

Posted by Stephany Morgan on

Last Updated: March 2020

When you do a Google search for Honeybush, Rooibos infiltrates the top results. Although the two “teas” are similar, particularly in taste, they come from entirely different African plants and are NOT the same thing. Honeybush is the sweeter of the two, as the name suggests, and Rooibos (aka 'Red Bush') has a woodier taste. Both are delicious, healthy and naturally caffeine-free.

Both Honeybush and Rooibos contain trace minerals, and beneficial phytochemicals. Both have potential anti-cancer benefits, and Honeybush and Red Rooibos are manufactured using the same methods including oxidation to give them their beautiful red hue.

What is Honeybush tea?

Honeybush has a seriously high level of antioxidants, and has the highest amount of antioxidants of any herbal tea sold at Matcha Alternatives. It is low in tannins and doesn’t become bitter with extended simmering or brewing. The longer it’s steeped, the higher the antioxidant levels. It has an ORAC of ~2700, but more on that below.

These contribute to Honeybush's immune-support benefits. It is anti-inflammatory, supports gastrointestinal health and women’s health. Wonderfully, Honeybush has no known negative side effects.

Taste-wise, it is sweet and floral, with delicate sour notes. This tea is quite soothing and therefore ideal for sleep or unwinding.

Jump to my list of honeybush and rooibos antioxidant (ORAC) levels

What is Red Rooibos? 

Red Rooibos is the most commonly known of this tea family, and has high levels of antioxidants, many health benefits and a flavor profile that can please any tea-drinker’s palate. Red Rooibos is rich, smooth, earthy and naturally decaffeinated. 

As with Green rooibos, Red Rooibos has antihistamine qualities, which make it a great choice for helping alleviate Hay Fever symptoms. Rooibos also has:

  • Skin benefits
  • Anti-ageing properties
  • Helps with appetite control
  • Can help improve sleep. Toss out the warm milk, folks! Rooibos’ ability to relieve tension and help relax makes it ideal for bedtime

A subset of people find that Red Rooibos tastes like cough syrup, and even describe it as having a 'rotten' or 'rancid' smell. From Matcha Alternatives' own empirical research, this seems to be down to genetics.

Just like the gene OR6A2 causes people to perceive the aldehydes in cilantro as tasting like soap or the gene TAS2R38 gives a heightened perception of bitterness (if you find Brussels sprouts and hops horribly bitter, you have this gene), to some Red Rooibos isn't very nice and to others it is gloriously sweet and rich. One Matcha Alternatives' customer even wrote in to say that her entire family can't stand red rooibos, whereas her partner and his family love it!

The founders of Matcha Alternatives, Elizabeth and Vientiene, recently held a tea tasting and served a red rooibos. Three out of the eleven participants, or 27%, tasted cherry cough syrup, whereas the rest of the group couldn't. Citizen science at its finest. ;-) 

Interestingly, Green Rooibos doesn't seem to cause this taste reaction, and continues to taste fresh with a citrus zing. 

Try our Green Rooibos Trio (3 Fresh Rooibos Teas Bundle) if you're worried about not liking Red Rooibos!

What is Green Rooibos?

Green Rooibos is a less common type of Rooibos, with the only difference from its famous sibling being that it is not fermented/oxidized, and therefore has a greener, citrus-y taste and is higher in antioxidants (because, as the word suggests, oxidizing tea leaves means reducing the antioxidants as they bond with free radical oxygen particles in the air). It does, however, have the same antioxidants and benefits as red rooibos - just more of them.

Red and Green Rooibos come from the same plant, it is just the oxidation process where they differ, and where the taste difference comes from.

Honeybush Red and Green Rooibos Matcha Alternatives

 Shop Our Rooibos & Honeybush Collection



Rooibos Loose Leaf - Matcha Alternatives

Antioxidant levels of Honeybush and Rooibos

  • Honeybush has the highest levels of antioxidants, with an ORAC of an incredible ~2705 / 8fl oz
  • Green Rooibos comes second, with an ORAC of ~2093.6 / 8fl oz
  • Red Rooibos comes third, with an ORAC of ~1537.6 / 8fl oz

ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity and is a scale to gauge antioxidant units.The higher the ORAC value, the higher the antioxidant level. For comparison, the same amount of Matcha has an ORAC of ~1384.

Rooibos (both red and green) contain the following antioxidants (for the real tea geeks out there!):

  • Polyphenol flavonoids including aspalathin (rare in other teas)
  • Nothofagin
  • Quercetin
  • Rutin
  • Isoquercitrin
  • Orientin
  • Isoorientin
  • Luteolin
  • Vitexin
  • Isovitexin
  • Chrysoeriol

Honeybush contains these antioxidants:

  • Flavanon (hesperidin)
  • Xanthones
  • Mangiferin
  • Isomangeferin
  • Benzophenones
  • Phenolic compounds (tyrosol, methoxy analogue)


Rooibos DIY Teabag Matcha Alternatives

Where are Honeybush and Rooibos from? 

All Honeybush and Rooibos are from South Africa, and no where else. Rooibos production started around 1900, going commercial in the 1930s when producers figured out how to germinate the seeds instead of harvesting the leaves from the wild. Rooibos is only grown in a 3000 square-mile area in the Cedarburg Mountains near Cape Town, South Africa. 

Honeybush is even rarer: it only grows in the mountains just north of the Cape of Good Hope, and, believe it or not, is only grown in the wild. Despite decades of research, Honeybush has resisted efforts to cultivate it commercially. This may be due to as-yet-unknown interactions with ants and birds, meaning that only 25% of the world's honeybush is grown on commercial plantations and these are quite small. The rest is collected from the mountains where it grows wild. 

Because it is primarily grown wild, there are worries about the unsustainability of the honeybush industry due to unscrupulous harvest practices. Whenever and wherever you purchase honeybush, always ensure it is Ethical Tea Partnership certified, so you can drink your cup of tea guilt-free.  

Honeybush and Rooibos Growing Regions - Matcha Alternatives

How do you brew Rooibos and Honeybush? Are there different techniques?

Happily, both Rooibos and Honeybush are very forgiving teas and can both be brewed the same way. They never go bitter, even if you forget all about the teabag in your thermos and only remember at lunchtime. They can, however, develop a slightly metallic taste if brewed for too long, much like saffron. Many find it quite pleasant though, so it's all down to personal preference.

They will also brew nicely at a range of temperatures, but you'll get the best taste using boiling water. Minimum brew length is five minutes to get the taste + antioxidants, but seven minutes is a good rule of thumb. Because rooiboses don't go bitter, you can put the leaves loose in your teapot and filter them out using a mug strainer, or you can use an infuser for less mess. 

For iced tea, both rooibos and honeybush make for a yummy and refreshing drink. Use triple the quantity of tea you would normally use for a hot tea (i.e. 3-4 teaspoons instead of 1-2), to get a nice strong brew that can be diluted with ice. I like to make at least 32oz (a quart) so I have plenty to drink, and find 3-4 tsp is good for that much water.

Let the tea steep for at least twenty minutes, then put in the fridge, or pour directly over ice. You can also brew it overnight, or cold brew it, but with a big caveat:

Antioxidants degrade over time, and after ~4 hours there won't be any left. So if you are making iced honeybush or rooibos for the health benefits, then brew a pot and pour it over ice - don't cold brew it or abandon it overnight!

    Caramel Christmas Rooibos - Matcha Alternatives

    It’s a Rooibos-Honeybush Tie!

    With full marks across the board, both of these comparable albeit unique beverages are healthy and delicious. Whichever you choose, you can’t really go wrong. When it comes time, pick based on your preferences: woody and earthy red rooibo? Citrusy green? Or smooth, honey, and a little sour honeybush? But if you can’t decide, there's no harm in trying a little of everything...

    Explore our Posts & Teas

    Discover Matcha Alternatives' Tea Science Series here
    To learn more about our teas, check out our introductory Spotlight series

    Green Rooibos Trio (3 Fresh Rooibos Teas Bundle) - This trio includes:  'The Purist' Organic Green Rooibos, Candied Pineapple Ginger Green Rooibos and Caramel Christmas Green & Red Rooibos

    Winter Rooibos Trio (3 Warming Teas Bundle) - This trio includes:  Peppermint Bark Red Rooibos, Caramel Christmas Green & Red Rooibos and Vanilla Almond Wonderland Red Rooibos

    'The Purist' Organic Honeybush - The classic! Honeybush is a crowd favorite :-)



    & remember to subscribe to the MA Blog so you never miss another!


    And of course...All of the information regarding the herbs, botanicals, minerals, vitamins, etc., is information drawn from traditional use data or academic research and should be regarded as such. If you, the reader, has a health or medical concern, please consult your healthcare professional. The information found here is not meant to diagnose, treat, prescribe or cure and has not been evaluated by the FDA. The information here is for educational use only.

    Rooibos & Honeybush References and Further Reading

    Herbst (2015). Fact Sheet on Honeybush. Affiliation: Cancer Association of South Africa. DOI: 10.13140/2.1.1824.0804. Retrieved 7/14/19 

    Herbst (2015). Fact Sheet on Rooibos. Affiliation: Cancer Association of South Africa. DOI: 10.13140/2.1.2544.9760 Retrieved 7/14/19

    'Honeybush Tea', South African Rooibos. Retrieved 7/14/19.

    'Rooibos Tea: A Caffeine-Free Tea That’s Bursting With Antioxidants', Mercola. Retrieved 7/14/19.

    '6 Rooibos Tea Benefits That Could Make It Worth Buying', Reader's Digest. Retrieved 7/14/19.

    Why Does Cilantro Taste Like Soap to Some? Melissa Petruzzello, Encyclopedia Brittanica. Retrieved 2/8/20.

    From Kale To Pale Ale, A Love Of Bitter May Be In Your Genes, Allison Aubrey, October 1, 2014, National Public Radio. Retrieved 2/8/20.

    Why Genetics May Be The Reason You Hate Cilantro, Leslie Wu, Feb 28, 2018,Forbes. Retrieved 2/8/20.

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    • When my wife described tea she would usually use the words bitter and gak (gak meant an icky sensation on her tongue) After reading a number of the blog posts we came to realize it was the addition of the oils that created this sensation/flavor for my wife. Since then, we’ve discovered Rooibos and Honeybush. They are now staples in our cupboard and we are happy to say they are gakless! lol!

      Mark P on

    • Rooibos and Honeybush are currently my favorites. The wonderful flavors make me realize the quality is far better than what I had previously purchased off the shelf in the grocery store. Thanks!

      Carol on

    • The more I read, the more surprised I am with all the high quality content that you have in Actually I thought that I knew something about tea, but in the end I conclude that I don´t know nothing…
      I am very curious to try specially Honeybush, because according to the above description I believe that I will enjoy it very much and it was surprise to know that it comes from Cape Town, I had no idea that South Africa has any tea plantations. I am curious, did you visit these tea plantations in Cape Town?

      Catarina Bruno - Magic Tea Mail on

    • Interesting! I hadn’t realised that Honeybush and Rooibos grew only in small regions of South Africa. It makes them feel very exclusive indeed. Also didn’t know about the antioxidants degrading if brewed too long. Great knowledge, I’ll be putting an order in.

      Jon Cholakian on

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