From its humble origins in the rugged Cederberg region of the Western Cape, the Rooibos industry has charted phenomenal growth, accumulating a history as colourful as the land from which it comes.
In times gone by: The residents of the area first discovered that the fine, needle-like leaves of the Aspalathus linearis plant made a tasty, aromatic tea. The leaves and fine stems were chopped with axes and bruised with hammers before being left in heaps to ferment. Once fermented, the leaves and thin stems were spread out to dry in the hot African sun, ready for use as a thirst-quenching drink. Today, Rooibos is still processed in much the same way, but, of course, the methods are now mechanised and far more refined.
Around 1900: The Rooibos industry was a little more than a cottage industry.
1904: Benjamin Ginsberg, a Russian immigrant and pioneer in the area, became interested in Rooibos and realised its marketing potential. He started trading it from the local farmers. The fact that Ginsberg came from a family who had been in the tea industry in Europe for centuries provided him with the know-how to market this new "mountain tea".
1930: By 1930, Dr P le Fras Nortier, the local medical doctor and amateur botanist, had discovered the secret of germinating Rooibos seeds. Together with Olof Bergh, a commercial farmer, he developed new cultivation methods and soon the production of Rooibos began on a much larger scale along the slopes of the Cederberg mountain range.
1948: The Rooibos producers established the Clanwilliam Tea Cooperative in 1948 when the Rooibos market collapsed after the Second World War.
1954: At the request of the Cooperative, the Minister of Agriculture appointed the Rooibos Tea Control Board in 1954. The Control Board's task was to regulate marketing, stabilise prices, and improve and standardise quality. A new era began for the Rooibos industry, as the Board's leadership guided the industry towards stability and prosperity. Since that time, the industry has made steady progress, refining its production methods and increasing distribution so that the unique goodness of Rooibos can be enjoyed by people the world over.
1993: The Rooibos Tea Control Board was converted into the fully privatised company Rooibos Limited.
2003: Green Rooibos (unfermented Rooibos) is produced by Rooibos Ltd.
2009: A new cookbook, A touch of Rooibos, is launched. What makes this book unique is that 14 of South Africa's top chefs contributed recipes in which they use Rooibos as an ingredient to show its versatility in cooking.
2011: Rooibos Ltd opens a factory to produce extracts.
2012: Rooibos Ltd markets Rooibos to more than 50 countries around the world.
2014: Rooibos Ltd markets Rooibos to more than 60 countries around the world.