If you do any research on the topic, an assertion you’ll see floating around the internet a lot is that “red rooibos is fermented while green rooibos is not.” While it’s true that the red rooibos undergoes processing that the green variety does not, the process is not fermentation but oxidation. For some reason the terms are used interchangeably by some in the tea industry, and I think that’s really unfortunate, because that makes tea-ing unnecessarily confusing.
Oxidation occurs from the moment the leaf is plucked from the plant; exposure to oxygen causes a change in chemistry (like how potatoes and bananas turn black eventually after being cut open). For green teas/tisanes, the plant material must be dried ASAP to prevent further oxidation. Black teas are allowed to oxidize the most (though they are not “fully oxidized” as you might see, again, on the internet). You don’t want fully oxidized tea, because that’s likely going to mean that the tea is stale.
Fermentation, on the other hand, involves microbiological activity and often in the absence of oxygen. Think bacteria+milk=yogurt or barley+yeast=beer. As in both of these examples, fermentation takes place when the bacteria or yeast (or another microorganism) converts sugar into something else (like lactic acid or alcohol). The only truly fermented tea from this series was discussed on Day 6: pu-erh.
Red rooibos tisane is oxidized (giving it the really reddish color) while green rooibos is not (at least not as much–remember that some oxidation is really unavoidable). This lack of oxidation results in higher antioxidant levels as well as different flavour compounds. Green rooibos is still smooth, but the typical rooibos flavour is muted, and it tastes a little grassy or woody. It almost tastes like green tea (which we’ll be getting to soon) except sweeter (and I think maybe without the possibility of getting bitter, like green tea does). This particular green rooibos is blended with honeybush, which I don’t have enough experience yet to distinguish but think it worked well.
I sweetened it with the same amount of honey as I do my green tea, but that was a mistake. Because the flavours are so dainty, the honey really took over the cup. So, I recommend adding less of whatever it is you decide to add.
Name one thing that doesn’t taste better with chocolate. Now take that back!
I was super excited to try this tisane, and at first sip I was a little disappointed. Besides the typical flowery vanilla taste of the rooibos, I didn’t taste much else. The chocolatiest thing about the cup I held at that point was the aroma, which was delightful. But the chocolate taste wasn’t very pronounced. That said, it was still delicious, so I kept drinking.
The more you drink of Numi’s “indulgent” chocolate rooibos, the more chocolaty it tastes. By the third sip I was reminded of the milk that’s leftover after you eat Cocoa Puffs. So subtle and yummy. I do recommend this tisane alchemy, though far fewer tea bags come in this box, so it’s definitely more of a splurge or treat purchase. Also, I recommend brewing for a minute or two more than the 6-8 they recommend, and don’t forget to squeeze that teabag before you compost it!
As we’ll talk about when we get to masala chai really soon, mixed brews like this one always taste better when they’re not mixed for you, so I’m going to experiment with this one to see if I can come up with a concoction that is equally chocolate and rooibos. I also have a feeling this tea would make a great latte (I feel like I make a promise every day, but yes, we’re doing a latte day!). Even though I think homemade anything tastes best, Numi really uses stellar ingredients in this brew, using sustainably-sourced (and in some cases hand-picked) cacao, rooibos, honeybush, and vanilla beans.
All-in-all, rooibos is a winner in all forms, and if you haven’t noticed, I’m definitely a Numi fan. And no, no one is paying me or sending me free stuff to do this series. But if you’re interested, email me! 😉