Rooibos, the new cool: breaking down the rooibos flavour profile

Tea is widely regarded as one of the most aromatic and appetizing drinks in the world, second only to water in terms of consumption. Strictly speaking, the word ‘tea’ only refers to a beverage that comes from the Camellia Sinensis plant, which is native to Asia. The most common tea varieties are black, green, white, oolong, purple, Pu-erh and herbal infusions.

On the other hand, herbal teas are referred to as tisanes (pronounced ti-zahn), since they don’t come from the Camellia Sinensis plant. They can be made from leaves, fruit, flowers, roots, berries, seeds, and spices. Popular tisanes include hibiscus, mint, chamomile, lemon balm and rooibos, which is an indigenous fynbos only available in the Cedarberg region of the Western Cape of South Africa.

Rooibos flavour profile

Though Rooibos is specifically popular for its various nutritional benefits as it is rich in antioxidants and contains no caffeine; it bursts with flavour and is wonderful to be enjoyed hot or cold. Rooibos’ flavour profile is unique and very different from black teas. Mostly it is enjoyed as a red fermented rooibos, but it is as equally satisfying in its unfermented, ‘green’ guise.

The difference between red and green rooibos lies in the processing. Both come from the same plant, but red rooibos (red bush) goes through a fermentation (oxidation) process which turns the green leaves into a reddish brown colour and develops its distinctive aroma. In the case of green rooibos, the fermentation process is skipped, and the “green” leaves and stems are dried immediately to prevent oxidation.

Tea terminology

To understand rooibos’ flavour profile, one must understand its distinct tea tasting language. Here’s how you can differentiate between tastes, flavours, mouthfeel, and aromas.

  • Astringency: dry, bitter taste, caused by tannin
  • Earthy: nature-inspired taste and aroma
  • Floral/flowery: floral taste or aroma
  • Fruit: rich in colour, dominantly sweet and fruity, but not overpowering
  • Spicy: strong spicy infusion
  • Balanced: where aromas succeed each other smoothly, highlighted by flavours and texture
  • Bite: tastes alive
  • Body: fullness and strength
  • Crisp: yielding a clean, refreshing taste
  • Generous: rich in aromas
  • Hungry: lacking in cup quality
  • Intense: strong taste
  • Long in the mouth: aromas that leave a pleasant and lasting impression in the mouth after tasting
  • Nose: pleasant aroma
  • Pungent: astringent effect on the palate without bitterness
  • Silky: silky and smooth, almost oily taste
  • Sweet: slightly sweet flavour, with no astringency associated with sweet, vanilla-flavoured aromas
  • Woody: reminiscent of freshly-cut timber


When tasting red rooibos, it has a delicate balance of sweetness on the nose, slight astringency, and full, smooth mouthfeel. There are three primary aromas i.e. fynbos-floral, woody and honey, followed by secondary aromas: fruity-sweet, caramel and apricot.

Although red Rooibos has a light, earthy taste, it’s strong enough to hold other ingredients like fruit, herbs, flowers, spices and even chocolate, making it ideal to use in popular blends like Masala chai or flower/fruity teas. It’s ideal to be used in cappuccino’s, latte, or espresso formats.

On the other hand, green rooibos is more delicate and has a vegetal, mild green (grassy) taste with sweet notes of caramel and a smooth, enjoyable mouthfeel and flavour profile. It also has a distinctive light orange/tan to yellow cup infusion.

Unlike Camellia Sinensis green teas, Green Rooibos is low in astringency, giving it the ideal base for making popular blends like Earl Grey and Breakfast teas. It also works beautifully with hints of chamomile, bergamot, and mint.

As rooibos blends so beautifully with a variety of flavours, it is ideal to be used in cooking as well to add extra flavour, making it your “spice cupboard” in a teacup.

With its distinctive sweetness and full mouthfeel, red rooibos works well in sweet dishes like desserts and cakes as well as with red meat, while green rooibos with it’s milder green/grassy taste is ideal to add to savoury dishes with herby flavours, making it ideal for from salad dressings to cooking rice and couscous and for cooking chicken. Both works well as a stock for soup.

Flavour Wheel

A flavour/aroma wheel is a helpful tool which will help you to categorise certain characteristics and aromas of a tea/tisane. The wheel will also help you to point out positive and negative attributes.


View a more detailed aroma wheel diagram here.