First Published: July 2019. Updated & expanded: July 2020
Read on to find out:
- The different health benefits of rooibos and honeybush tea
- Why your genes might make you taste red rooibos differently
- What the heck is green rooibos, anyway?
- How rooibos and honeybush are grown and harvested
- How to brew rooibos and honeybush teas the right way
When you're done with this overview, be sure to check out Part 2 of this post, where we'll go even deeper into the properties of rooibos and honeybush related to their estrogen content and how they affect pregnancy.
Rooibos and Honeybush at a Glance
The first indication that rooibos and honeybush are different is the taste. Honeybush is the sweeter of the two, as the name suggests, and rooibos (aka red bush tea) has a woodier taste. However, both are delicious and naturally caffeine-free.
The two teas are also extremely healthy. Both honeybush and rooibos contain trace minerals and beneficial phytochemicals, and both have potentially anti-cancer properties. I'll go into more detail about these benefits in just a moment.
Honeybush and red rooibos are even manufactured using the same methods, including oxidation, to give them their beautiful red hue.
One more thing to note: while many English speakers will freeze up when trying to pronounce "rooibos," it's actually very easy. You just say it as it's spelled: "roy-boss" or maybe "roy-bus" for some, say in the UK. Now you're talking like a tea-boss!
What Are the Benefits of Honeybush Tea?
Honeybush has a very high level of antioxidants - in fact, it contains 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 more antioxidants end up in your cuppa!
This high level of antioxidants contributes to honeybush's immune-support benefits. It is anti-inflammatory, boosts gastrointestinal health, and supports 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 makes an ideal brew for sleep or unwinding.
What Are the Benefits of Red Rooibos Tea?
Red rooibos is the most commonly known member of this tea family. It 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.
Rooibos has antihistamine qualities, which make it a great choice for helping alleviate hay fever symptoms. Some of its other awesome properties include:
- 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 you relax makes it ideal for bedtime
Can Your Genes Affect the Taste of Red Rooibos?
A subset of people find that red rooibos tastes like cough syrup, or other odd smells. From Matcha Alternatives' own not-at-all-empirical-but-anecdotal research, this seems to be down to genetics.
There are many cases of genes affecting the way people taste certain foods. For example, the gene OR6A2 causes people to perceive the aldehydes in cilantro as tasting like soap. Another taste-affecting gene is TAS2R38, which gives a heightened perception of bitterness (if you find Brussels sprouts and hops in beer horribly bitter, you might just have this gene).
A similar thing happens with red rooibos. Some people think it isn't very nice, and others find it 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 whole family love it! Many examples like this draws us to the genetics conclusion.
The founders of Matcha Alternatives, Elizabeth and Vientiene, recently held a tea tasting in Penang, Malaysia at a political activist bookshop-cum-café and served a red rooibos amongst many others. 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, and importantly, green rooibos doesn't seem to cause this taste reaction, and continues to taste fresh with a citrus zing. This time, we discovered this with the help of our IG community @MatchaAlternatives, where several followers identified that green rooibos did not trigger the same response in those who seemed to have the genes for tasting red rooibos differently. In fact, it was through their popular demand that we created a green rooibos bundle!
What Are the Benefits of Green Rooibos Tea?
Green rooibos is a less common type of rooibos, with the only difference from its famous sibling being that it is not fermented/oxidized. Therefore, it has a greener, fresher, less woody, more citrus-y taste.
Green rooibos is also much higher in antioxidants. Oxidizing tea leaves means reducing the antioxidants, as they bond with free radical oxygen particles in the air. Thus, red rooibos loses some of its antioxidants during preparation, while green rooibos doesn't.
In short, green rooibos has the same kinds of 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.
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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
For comparison, the same amount of matcha tea has an ORAC of ~1384, so if it's a superfood drink you want, keep your wallet happy and try these for an even more powerful kick!
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. To learn more about ORAC and how it's measured, check out my in-depth post here.
Rooibos (both red and green) contains the following antioxidants (for the real tea geeks out there!):
- Polyphenol flavonoids, including aspalathin (rare in other teas)
Honeybush contains these antioxidants:
- Flavanon (hesperidin)
- Phenolic compounds (tyrosol, methoxy analogue)
To learn what all these antioxidants actually do to your body, check out my post on antioxidants in rooibos, honeybush, and chamomile teas!
Rooibos and honeybush also contain plant estrogens, which can have several benefits related to women's health and pregnancy. To learn more, check out Part 2 of this post!
Where are Honeybush and Rooibos from?
All honeybush and rooibos teas are from South Africa, and nowhere 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.
In any case, 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.
In case you were wondering, Matcha Alternatives' teas are ETP-certified, and we are proud of our commitment to ethical tea sourcing and packaging.
How Do You Brew Rooibos and Honeybush? Are There Different Techniques?
Happily, both rooibos and honeybush are very forgiving teas, and can 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 for some people if brewed for a very long time, much like saffron tea. 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. There is little risk of burning relative to a delicate white tea or similar. Minimum brew length is five minutes to get the taste and antioxidants, but seven minutes is a good rule of thumb for a deeper brew.
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 per cup) to get a nice strong brew that can be diluted with ice. I like to make at least 32oz (a quart) so that I have plenty to drink. Play around and see how strong you would like to make it (remembering you can also put in less tea and brew it for longer).
Let the tea steep for at least twenty minutes, then put it in the fridge, or pour directly over ice. You can also brew it overnight, or cold brew it, bearing in mind how antioxidants work and degrade over time:
Antioxidant levels are correlated with temperature, which also hastens decay. For a classic hot brew, loads of antioxidants are quickly released, and then they decay over time (usually around 4 hours, depending on the tea, the heat of the water, etc.).
If you make a hot brew and then quickly add ice in the traditional ice tea method, you slow the antioxidant decay a bit, as oxidation happens more readily at higher temperatures.
And then lastly, if you use the sun tea / cold brew method, you've slowed down the reactions so it takes longer for the antioxidants to be released (this is why brewing takes so long) and also slowed down the antioxidant decay/oxidation.
In a study analyzing the effects of different brewing methods on black, green, and oolong teas, a group of researchers discovered that cold brew tea steeped over 12 hours actually contains comparable amounts of antioxidants to hot brew. Furthermore, some antioxidants were actually found in higher levels in cold brew tea.
In other words: the antioxidants in cold brew should last longer than hot brew or traditional iced tea, but will still degrade after a day or so. Whew!
It’s a Rooibos-Honeybush Tie!
Dying to try these super healthy teas? This trio of ethically-sourced organic honeybush, red rooibos, and green rooibos teas has you covered!
Love Earl Grey? You'll adore this fragrant, woody red rooibos blend! Getting your antioxidants never tasted this good.
Take advantage of green rooibos's fresh, citrusy flavor with one of our favorite dessert teas!
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. This information is for educational purposes only.
Rooibos & Honeybush References
"Effects of alternative steeping methods on composition, antioxidant property and colour of green, black and oolong tea infusions." Claudia Lantano et. al., Journal of Food Science and Technology, Jul. 29, 2015. DOI: 10.1007/s13197-015-1971-4
Further Reading Related to Rooibos and Honeybush