Rooibos dispute

Geographical Indications

Some well-known Geographic Indications (Source)

I was surprised to hear that Rooibos is at the centre of a dispute between the South African Department of Trade and Industry and a French Company (Compagnie de Trucy). Matthias Leridon, president of Compagnie de Trucy, an investment company, says that they aim to create a luxury brand that includes Rooibos supplied by small producers. Leridon was a special advisor to the French Ministry of Defence and worked as a consultant in the office of the Minister for the Civil Service. Apart from Compagnie de Trucy, Leridon has set up a communications consultancy firm (Tilder) and sits on the board of directors of “African Artists for Development”.

Compagnie de Trucy is trying to secure the exclusive rights to market Rooibos in France by applying for a French trademark. Their application for the terms “Rooibos” and “South African Rooibos” was rejected but terms such as “Le comptoir du rooibos”, “Le palais du rooibos” are still under consideration. If successful, it would complicate the export of this local speciality to France and would involve the payment of royalties to the French firm. There is a trademark protection system call Geographic Indication (GI), which could be used to protect Rooibos. GIs points to a specific place, or region of production, that determines the characteristic qualities of the product. Examples include Darjeeling Tea from India, Champagne Wine from France, Gruyère from France and Connemara Hill lamb from Ireland. The database of EU geographical indications is here .

Rooibos overviewThe process for achieving GI protection isn’t straightforward though. Rooibos needs to be protected within its country of origin and receive official trademark status there before it could qualify as a GI in the EU. This caused some problems because South African law did not previously have protection for geographical indications. However, the government has just approved a new Act (the Traditional Knowledge Act) that includes a provision for the protection of good “originating in the territory of the Republic or in a region or locality in that territory”.

It seems a little paradoxical that GI legislation was led by the wine industry in France and yet now they are at the centre of a dispute on the opposing side of GI protection. I personally think that Rooibos is the Champagne of South Africa and should be protected as such.

Health benefits of Rooibos

The health benefits of tea are constantly mentioned in the media and a lot of people seem to start drinking tea (especially green tea and herbal teas) for health reasons. So, from time to time, I will gather and review the research that is published on particular health aspects of tea.

Rooibos Farm (source)

Rooibos Farm (source)

Since I talked about Rooibos last week, I thought I might start with it. Rooibos is a caffeine-free tisane that comes from the leaf of Aspalathus linearis. Since it does not come from Camellia sinensis it is not a real tea so we call it a herbal tea or tisane. Traditional medicinal uses of rooibos have included alleviation of infantile colic, asthma, allergies, dermatological problems, digestive discomfort and anxiety.

Many studies have been done on the antioxidant content of Rooibos. Marnewick found that a 200ml serving of Rooibos has 58.5 – 68.9mg of pholyphenol antioxidants (depending on amount of leaves used and brewing time). Studies on the chemical constituents of the antioxidants in Rooibos have shown the presence of nothofagin, aspalathin and isoorientin, orientin, rutin and several other flavonoids and phenolic acids. The types of polyphenols in Rooibos are different to those in Green tea and Black tea and in particular, the antioxidant aspalathin can not been found in any other natural sources besides Rooibos. Researchers have found that “an aspalathin-enriched extract of green rooibos is able to lower raised glucose levels in the blood of diabetic rats” (source).

Two of Rooibos’s antioxidants (quercetin and luteolin) have been shown, in vitro, to induce the death of cancer cells (in vitro just means that the tests were carried out in a controlled environment outside a living body, e.g. in a test tube). Rutin has been found to prevent the formation of thrombosis (blood clots) in mice and orientin has been associated with a reducing damage to the bone marrow and gastrointestinal tract after mice were exposed to radiation.

Aspalathus linearis

Aspalathus linearis (source)

Although, the antioxidant content of Rooibos is well documented and there are many laboratory results on the benefits of those antioxidants, I found it very difficult to find scientific, peer-reviewed articles on human studies involving Rooibos. One paper, published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, looked at the effect of Rooibos on specific parameters for adults at risk of developing heart disease. The results were positive and Rooibos significantly improved the lipid profile and the redox status. However, just 40 participants were involved in the study so presumably it would need to be repeated with a much larger group before it could be cited as conclusive evidence.

Rooibos has long been used to soothe colic in babies but the tea gained particular attention in the late 1960s when a South African woman, Annique Theron, found that it eased her infant’s colic. The story goes that she found no documentation on the benefits of Rooibos so she began her own experiments with babies who had colic and allergies. She concluded that Rooibos helped with the symptoms and she published a book in 1970 entitled “Allergies: An Amazing Discovery”. Rooibos seems to be still recommended by South African physicians in the treatment of colic even though the scientific evidence as a treatment does not seem to exist. Similarly, there is no scientific research into Rooibos as a treatment for skin allergies or digestive problems but its use as a treatment for both seem widely accepted.

Rooibos NaturalSo what’s the bottom line on the health benefits of Rooibos? Well, Rooibos is naturally caffeine-free, calorie-free, low in tannins and rich in antioxidants. Some lab and mouse work have been done on the specific benefits of the antioxidants in Rooibos but research on human models is scant. I think Ferreira et al put it best when he said “the growing body of evidence pointing towards the therapeutic value of Rooibos tea gives a considerable degree of credibility to the anti-ageing claims, but expectations of a healthier life rather than increasing lifespan would perhaps be a more realistic outlook”.

Afternoon tea – Westin, Dublin

Tea at the Westin is set in the upstairs Atrium away from the hustle and bustle of the main lobby and entrance. The Atrium is is bright because of skylights but there are no windows and this adds to the sense of withdrawal from the busy streets of Dublin’s city centre. The calmness inside and well-spaced tables make it ideal for quiet get-togethers or meetings.

The tea list was extensive and confusing.  There are three pages of tea over two separate menus. The first menu had:

Black: Irish breakfast tea, Bohea Lapsang and Lychee Red Black tea

White: Jasmine Silver Needle White tea, Westin White tea blend

Green: Flowering Osmanthus Green

Yellow: Fire mountain Yellow

Tisanes: Peppermint, Rosebuds

 

Then there was a second tea menu with:

Black: Assam Breakfast, Early Grey, Darjeeling 2nd Flush

Green: Jade Green, Jasmine Green, Flowering Jasmine Peach Green

White: White peony

Tisanes: Mint, Chamomile, Blackcurrant and hibiscus

 

I wasn’t too sure what to make of it all. On the one hand I was impressed to see a Yellow tea on a hotel menu and there was an impressive selection of Black and Green tea. On the other hand have no idea what a Fire Mountain Yellow Tea is and there were two huge categories of tea missing: Oolong and Pu-erh.

Blooming Osmanthus Tea

Blooming Osmanthus Tea

I ordered the Jasmine Silver Needle White tea and was duly presented with the Flowering Osmanthus Green Tea! I was really happy for the mix-up. I just wish they had prepared it in front of me so I could see it beforehand and watch it “bloom”. Osmanthus flower can be dried and prepared on its own as a herbal tea but for flowering teas, green tea is handtied around the flower. It starts off as a small round ball and expands to reveal colourful flower when hot water is added. These teas are appreciated for their visual appeal rather than their taste and that held true in this case too.

Westin Afternoon TeaThe food on the other hand was very flavoursome. The sandwiches and scones (with clotted cream) were fresh and tasty but the fruit cake and pastries were outstanding. There was a chocolate cup of Irish whiskey cream, pistachio macaroon, lemon sponge cake,  red velvet cake and cheesecake with berries. They were all delicate and delicious.

Surprisingly, after about an hour I was told that the table was reserved and I would need to move to another table (there were plenty) or leave before 4:30pm.  I had finished eating and wasn’t in the mood for playing musical chairs so I left but was miffed that my relaxing afternoon  was turned into a clock-watching situation.

Afternoon tea at the Westin is €24 which is not bad for the city centre location, the relaxing setting and above-average pasteries. To avoid being rushed, it would be worth confirming at the booking stage that they do not need the table back.

Location on Google maps

Rooibos

It’s hard to believe that I have been writing this blog for over a month now and this is the first time I am talking about Rooibos. I’m a devoted Rooibos and Honeybush fan and if you read this blog, you’ll have to put up with me gushing about both on a very regular basis.

Rooibos Natural

Rooibos (pronounced “roy-boss” in South Africa, pronounced “roo-y-boss” here) is not a tea at all (see categories here). It is a caffeine-free tisane that comes from the leaf of Aspalathus linearis and not Camellia sinensis. Rooibos is produced in South Africa and similar to tea processing, it can be oxidised (red) or non-oxidised (green).

Rooibos from above

 

It is generally said that Rooibos is an acquired taste. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t like it (in fact, I can’t remember my life before Rooibos at all!) but the flavour is different to every other tea so maybe it takes a little while to get used to it. Rooibos often comes flavoured (e.g. vanilla, caramel) and these can be very sickly. If you haven’t tried Rooibos, my advice is to try an unflavoured Rooibos first and experiment with the flavoured varieties later if you like the basic taste.

 

Rooibos is a relaxing and hydrating drink and not one for energising or kick-starting your day. Because it is caffeine free, it can be taken at any time. I drink it mostly in the afternoons or as a soothing end to a heavy meal.

Rooibos TeaThe preparation of Rooibos is straightforward and one of the least fussy teas to prepare. Put 5g of loose leaf  tea into a brew-basket (or teapot) and add 200ml of freshly boiled water (100° C). It needs to settle for about 4 minutes but can be left longer for a deeper taste, as it never gets bitter. The leaves can be re-used for multiple steepings but it needs to be left for longer and will be noticeably weaker after several uses. I never use milk or sweetener but I’ve seen people adding both in South Africa.

The Rooibos pictured here is organic and fair-trade  and was bought in Ghent, Belgium for €2.95 (for 100g). The tea is a little hazy and not as clear and crisp as higher grades but I consider it extremely good value.

Chinese Tea House – Berghaus zum Osmanthussaft

Chinese Garden - Gardens of the World, BerlinThis is the last post dedicated to tea-drinking in Berlin (I promise!). For this one, we went out of town to the “Gardens of the World” (Marzahn Recreational Park). This is a collection of nine exotic world gardens, including an enclosed Japanese garden, a Balinese glasshouse, a Korean garden, a labyrinth, an Italian Renaissance Garden and a Chinese garden.

The whole park was covered in a carpet of snow and the Japanese and Korean gardens were both closed so we started to worry that the 45-minute trip from the city centre had been for nothing. Thankfully the Chinese garden (“Garden of the Reclaimed Moon”) was open for visitors.  It is the largest Chinese garden in Europe and was opened to the public in 2000 after four years of work by Chinese artisans using only Chinese materials. Within the garden is a tea pavilion that promises an authentic insight into Chinese tea culture.

Tea Pavillion - Chinese Garden

Tea Pavilion – Chinese Garden

Sitting on the patio overlooking the lake would be beautiful on a sunny day but we by-passed the snowmen and went inside to the charmingly decorated tea-room. Despite the high ceilings, stone floors and open layout, it felt cosy and warm inside. There was a large group of about 15 people in one corner and a steady flow of smaller groups all the time we were there, which surprised me for snowy Easter Sunday. Inside the Tea Pavilion

Demonstrations of Chinese tea art normally take place on Saturdays and Sundays but this being Easter, there was none. The menu has a selection of about 30 teas. Green, White, Yellow, Oolong, Black and Pu-erh as well as flavoured teas and tisanes all featured. The Oolong and Lapsang Souchong that we had were both acceptable, though not outstanding. The utensils allowed for multiple steepings and certainly helped to make the best of the tea but for €11, it still seemed a little steep.Utensils used for Tea

 

 

 

 

 

The “Gardens of the World” are outside the city centre but it is easy to get to Marzahn by train and there is a direct bus from the train station to the gardens. The entrance fee is €4 to the gardens. With all the snow and closed sections, it was hard to gauge how nice the gardens themselves were but the reviews on TripAdvisor are positive and I could imagine it being a pleasant way to spend a sunny afternoon.

Tajikistan Tearoom (Tadshikische Teestube)

Russian Tea CeremonySimilar to our experince with the Berliner Teesalon, we had trouble getting in to the Tajikistan tearoom. When we turned up at the Palais am Festungsgraben, we found out that the tearoom had relocated. The location in the 18th century, Baroque, Palais am Festungsgraben was a large part of the reason I hade chosen this tea room but we persisted and took a tram to Oranienburger Str. The tearoom was extremely busy and all the floor space was taken so we took a regular table (with chairs!). The tea list was fairly extensive but to treat ourselves we went for the  “Russian Tea Ceremony”. At €8 each, this involved a serving of tea with sweeteners (jam, lime jelly, dried orange peel, rum soaked raisins and sugar) and there was also a shot vodka for each of us and a plate of biscuits to share.

 

Hot water from the samovarConcentrated tea is prepared in the small teapot and the silver samovar contains hot water. The idea is to take a small amount of concentrated tea and add as much hot water as necessary to dilute. The tea was pungent, black and gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “trotting a mouse on it” but diluted it was very drinkable and with the sweeteners it was just lovely. I tried to find out some details on the tea used but I was told it was a blend of many types. I normally don’t drink tea in the afternoon so at 6pm I kept murmuring about no sleep for a week while I drank my fill of strong black tea. Maybe the tea was decaff (!) or maybe it was the vodka but I slept like a baby that night.

Location on Google maps

 

Berliner Teesalon

We had a tough time getting in to this shop. Confusingly, there seems to be two websites for the Berliner Teesalon. I, of course, looked at the old website that states a weekday opening time of 10am instead of 12pm, so when we arrived, the place was in darkness.  We couldn’t wait around so we went on with our day and decided to come back in the afternoon. I spent a fair bit of time throughout the day putting up arguments about why we shouldn’t  bother with the three-train journey back over to Rosenthaler Platz. I’m glad I didn’t win – it was definitely worth the hassle. The number of teas (over 300) is impressive in itself but all the accessories and the enthusiasm of the staff makes this an outstanding teashop.

Berliner Teesalon, Invalidenstr. 160

Front room of the Berliner Teesalon

Some of the hundreds of tea

Some of the hundreds of tea

The teashop is spread over three adjoining rooms.  The emphasis is on non-flavoured teas. With over 60 black teas, 30 Oolongs, 60 Green and White teas and 20 or so Pu-erhs, there is a lot to take in. Luckily, in the middle room there are a couple of tables where it is possible to review the entire menu of teas and taste any of them that are available to buy. Great care is taken in the preparation of the tea with water, temperature, rinsing and steeping time all getting due attention.

My purchases from the Berliner Teesalon

My purchases from the Berliner Teesalon

As far as tea accessories go, there is everything you could possibly imagine: Yixing pottery, ceramic cups, glass teapots, porcelain pitchers, tea tables, cast iron teapots, gaiwans, tea-sets etc. They are spread all over the shop in display cupboards and on tables that makes it way too easy to picture them in your own home. I broke my promise about not buying any more tea accessories and bought two teapots! The porcelain set of teapot and four cups was just €17 so I couldn’t leave it behind! In terms of tea, I bought an Oolong, a Pu-erh and a something I’ve never hear of: a white Pu-erh tea. I’m looking forward to tasting and reviewing once my cold has cleared up.

Location on Google maps.