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What is Red Tea?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 01, 2024
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Red tea is a popular South African beverage made from the oxidized and dried leaves of the Aspalathis linearis plant. Technically, it is a tisane, not a tea, since it does not contain the leaves of Camellia sinensis, the tea bush. Several South African companies produce red tea for export, since it has become popular in many other parts of the world as well; it is a common offering at tea houses and restaurants, and it can also be found in many markets.

This beverage is also sometimes called rooibos, a reference to the parent plant. In Afrikaans, the hybrid Dutch language spoken in South Africa, “rooibos” means “red bush.” Native Africans have been using the leaves of this bush to prepare tisanes for centuries, and when European explorers were introduced to red tea, they acquired a taste for it. While the common name of this beverage is technically incorrect, it has become so pervasive that it is generally considered acceptable, except by tea purists.

The rooibos plant only grows in a small region of South Africa. In the summer, the leaves are harvested, lightly bruised, and allowed to oxidize, which turns them red. After a period of oxidation, the tea is dried and packaged for sale. It is also possible to find green rooibos, made from fresh leaves which are immediately dried without oxidation. In South Africa, red tea is a readily available and very popular drink.

The flavor is mild and earthy, with faint mineral tones and a natural sweetness. Red tea has no tannins or caffeine, so it is safe for people on restricted diets and individuals with health concerns. When steeped, the tea acquires a rich red color, and it can enjoyed plain or lightly sweetened and dressed with milk. Some people enjoy this tea iced as well, and it is often offered as a thirst quenching drink in hot weather.

Some people also believe that red tea has health benefits. South Africans often offer it to colicky or restless babies, or drink a cup before bed to calm down and promote healthy sleep. This popular African tea also has lots of antioxidants, which appear to promote general health while helping the body resist heart disease and other potentially harmful conditions. Red tea is viewed as a ubiquitous cure-all in South Africa, and it is commonly offered to guests and people who feel restless or upset.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon227849 — On Nov 06, 2011

Your thailand tea is a rooibos tea. You should read the label of the product.

By anon185012 — On Jun 10, 2011

In Thailand have red tea which call "Dok Kra jeeb red tea"

It has a sour taste. when you drink it, you feel refreshed.

By Proxy414 — On Feb 02, 2011


This is an interesting point because it seems that consumers will generally find more interest in something based on its novelty rather than its real value. We tend to revere things from distant times and places.

By GigaGold — On Jan 31, 2011


I tend to prefer the East Asian teas because they are ancient and have been tested with time. I don't find red tea to be as interesting as some of the older types from distant lands.

By hangugeo112 — On Jan 29, 2011

Red tea has no caffeine, unlike green tea. Like green tea, it provides a lot of antioxidants. So in many ways, this South African tea is better for you than green tea.

By SilentBlue — On Jan 27, 2011

Some apply the name "Red Tea" to East Asian red tea. This can be confusing, since there is a difference between rooibos and Asian red tea. Asian red tea is most commonly referred to as "Black Tea" in the West, to eliminate this confusion.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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