The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
Africa's Honeybush Tea
Tasty and Healthy Like its Rooibos Cousin
Like South Africa's rooibos tea, honeybush is an herb that's also indigenous to
the Cedarburg area of the Western Cape, located about 250 km from Cape
Town.  There, in the microclimate of the Fynbos region, a small area of natural
shrub land located in a narrow belt, both the rooibos plant (
Aspalathus linearus),
and the honeybush plant (
cyclopia), grow wild.
There are 24 different types
of honeybush, but only three species that are
pro- duced commercially. The most common of
the three is cyclopia intermedia found in the
Langkloof area, a slow growing species that
thrives in high, stony mountainous regions.  
Intermedia is a resprouter, meaning the plant
regenerates from its own root system.  This
type of honeybush can only be har- vested
every two years.

The cyclopia subternata and cyclopia
maculata species of honeybush are much
more suitable for commercial agriculture as
they prefer valleys and lower lying ground.
They also grow much faster than intermedia
and can be harvested every six months.  
Unlike intermedia these are reseeders, meaning they regenerate from seeds once the plant
dies.  

Used for its
health promoting benefits, the first recorded use of honeybush
dates back many generations, to around the 17th century, but it was likely
in use thousands of years earlier.  Honeybush became known locally as
"Poor Man's Tea," because it could be gathered for free.

All honeybush that is sold commercially today is wild growing and natural,
and so is considered to be essentially
organic, even though it isn't certified
as such on the labeling.  All three varieties of honeybush look completely
different, but once processed and fermented they are all quite similar, and
just like
rooibos, the entire plant is utilized during processing.

                                             Most of the honeybush produced today is gathered by local resi-
                                             dents, granted access by the landowners to go into the surround
                                             -ing hills where it grows.  The production amounts fluctuate due
                                             to the wild, natural state of the honeybush, that varies from one
                                             year to the next.  The bushes are cut and bundled, then sold to
                                             processors, like Honeybush Natural Products, Pty. Ltd, (HNP),
                                             who pay a fixed price for each species.

The independent gatherers deliver cut bundles of honeybush to Honeybush Natural Products
(HNP), and once there is enough stock on hand, production begins.  First the bushes are fed in-
to cutting machines, where leaves and branches are broken down to a fine cut.

       Next comes fermentation, as the finely
       cut honeybush is fed into a steam fer-
       menter and heated to 85C for eighteen
       hours. This process serves a double
       purpose of both fermenting the tea,
       and pasteurizing it, removing all micro-
       bial and bacterial components existing
       in the mixture. It's during this ferment-
       ation step that the oxidation process
       changes the enzymes, resulting in
       changes to the flavor characteristics,
       and the color of the tea.

       During the next phase, the hot, wet
       tea is fed into a three stage fluid bed
       dryer. When it emerges at the end of
       this step the moisture content will be just 8%.  Lastly, the tea is filtered through a set of
       three sizes of graduated sieves:  dust, fine cut, and course.  The coarsely
graded tea is
       then fed into another cutter that reduces it to smaller, fine cut size pieces.  The dust is
       stored and not packaged or shipped.  

       Once packaged, honeybush can last up to five years if
stored properly.  Rarely does this
       happen though, because for now demand exceeds supply, and whatever supplies of
       honeybush that are bought, are usually used rather quickly.

                                                          Commercial production of honeybush began in the early
                                                          1990s. New and refined techniques brought the first
                                                          honeybush tea products to market in retail stores in South
                                                          Africa by the mid to late 1990s.  HNP began its operations
                                                          in 1996 and quickly became the largest supplier of pro-
                                                          cessed honeybush in the world.

                                                          HNP joined forces with Rooibos Ltd. in 2004, with Rooibos
       Ltd. becoming a major stockholder, taking on the task of marketing and distribution of all
       HNP products.  Currently HNP has a production capacity of about 300 tons per year, but
       with the current harvesting methods dependent on wild, natural gathering, production
       amounts can vary.

       Honeybush tea can be prepared and drunk much the same as rooibos or
black tea; plain,
       with cream and/or sugar or honey, or with a slice of lemon.  For a unique flavor combina-
       tion rooibos and honeybush teas mix well together, adding another layer of flavor.  In fact,
       rooibos and honeybush
blends are be- coming a fast growing blend that's currently in high
       demand.  They also work well when added to, or blended with other
herbs.
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HNP has been working on research and development of new techniques for commercial farming of the honeybush
plant.  To date they have healthy bushes from all three species, that have been growing for over ten years.

Johan Kritzinger, director of HNP is encouraged by the results, believing that within the
next one to two years they will see commercial plantings happen. Once sustainable sup-
plies of honeybush increase, this pure, natural, great tasting, high in antioxidants,
caffeine free tea will storm supplier's shelves, and like the growth of rooibos, eventually
become available in many other formats, such as
ready to drink (RTD) honeybush tea
and honeybush extract, used for the same types of applications as rooibos.

So, rejoice honeybush tea drinkers-the best is yet to come.  
Enjoy.