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.

Da Hong Pao (Royal Red Robe)

This Da Hong Pao or Royal Red Robe is an Oolong tea, produced in the Wuyi mountains of Fujian, China (a Unesco World Heritage Site).leaves

There are a couple of legends associated with this tea. One of them involves an Emperor of the Ming Dynasty who was travelling with his ill mother. The Emperor’s mother was cured by the leaves of the tea bushes that were growing on a cliff of the Wuyi mountain and in gratitude, the Emperor sent red robes to cover the tea bushes. Hence the name Royal Red Robe.  It is believed that three of these original bushes still survive today in the Wuyi mountain and so these bushes were insured in 2006 for $14,000,000. Tea has not been produced from these bushes for some time but when it was, it was reserved for the select few. On occasion, some went for  auction. In 2002, 20g of first generation Da Hong Pao apparently sold for $21,700 (source).

Clearly this is not that tea that I have! Cuttings have been taken from the original bushes to produce similar ancestral teas. The quality of the teas varies but the best grades are still expensive. The one that I have was a gift so I don’t know how much it cost but I hope it wasn’t too much because it was clear from the foreign matter and broken leaves (especially after steeping) that this is a low grade. I don’t know the year or harvest period of this tea.

leaves in bowl

Wuyi Oolongs are darker with ~80% oxidation.  They are earthier than other Oolongs and give a deeper colour after steeping. It is strip-style (as opposed to ball-rolled) so it is not packed as tightly as the Tieguanyin that I spoke about previously.

red robe glassPreparation (see post here about steeping): To prepare this tea, I put 5g of the tea in a warmed clay teapot. After rinsing the leaves, I add 150ml of water that is just below boiling (when it makes the rumbling sound) and let it rest for 30 seconds. This tea is brown-red in color and has a deep earthy and nutty smell.  The second and third steeping are deeper and darker than the first but not by much. I get six steepings from this tea with the steeping time increasing for each one.

This tea came from Beijing Tong Ren Tang on Shaftsbury Road, London. Because it was a present, I don’t know how much it cost but I wouldn’t be paying any more than about £12 for 100g of this grade.