The European Union added rooibos (red bush) tea to the register of products with a protected designation of origin. The iconic tea is the first African product to receive such status in the EU, and the 40th from a non-EU country.
Rooibos is in good company – this is the same kind of protection given to champagne, prosciutto di Parma, feta and many other iconic foods. This designation contributes to a product’s global standing and is likely to have benefits – economic and beyond – for the region.
Protected status is given to products whose quality is strictly linked to the local area and peculiar manufacturing techniques.
Rooibos is obtained through the infusion of dried leaves or stems of Aspalathus linearis. The plant grows in Cederberg, a mountain region with fertile soil north of Cape Town, and in harsh microclimate conditions with hot dry summers and wet winters. Once harvested, the bushy plant is grown following a specific process to produce a tea that is fruity, woody, spicy in taste, and naturally caffeine-free.
Café de Colombia was the first-ever non-EU product protected under this scheme in 2007, followed in 2011 by others such as Indian tea Darjeeling and Chinese green tea Longing cha.
Part of the EU legal framework for protecting regional foods is that they have acquired a strong reputation among consumers. Favorable climates and centuries-old manufacturing techniques rooted in their designated areas have contributed to this renown.
Such legal protection matters, as attempts to misappropriate the rooibos brand, have occurred in the past. In 2013 a French company tried to register the trademark “rooibos” for skincare products in France (one of the health benefits of this tea is its rich antioxidant content that may improve skin health).
The new EU designation is likely to offer rooibos producers and farmers a valuable market advantage because only infusions produced in the local area north of Cape Town and according to specific rules can be labeled “rooibos”. This ensures that tea produced in other areas cannot be sold in the EU – one of the biggest markets in the world – under the name rooibos/red bush. Evocative uses of such designations by third parties (for example, “Rooibos kind”, “Red Bush type”, “Rooibos style” or “Red Bush imitation”) are also prohibited.
The South African Rooibos Council estimated that the total rooibos sales in 2020 equaled 6 billion cups of tea – close to one cup per human on Earth. It also reported that half the production is consumed locally, whereas the other half is exported to more than 60 countries.
Comment from our own taste expert:
“Rooibos is great, the taste is perfect and different, and I (he) love it and now I can buy it on our site in the Grocery section of our Africa Shopping Mart.