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Make tea not war

Loveday Khambula of the Fat Frog Kitchen on Lilian Ngoyi Road shows her joy at the prospect of a cup of South African Rooibos tea. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency (ANA)

Loveday Khambula of the Fat Frog Kitchen on Lilian Ngoyi Road shows her joy at the prospect of a cup of South African Rooibos tea. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jul 22, 2022


Durban - Long regarded as the preserve of the old, the burdened or the upper crust, tea is finally having its moment in the sun and getting the respect it deserves.

Teapreneurs say over the past few years the drink has become increasingly popular and even those addicted to coffee have been swayed to try a tea.

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“It’s largely due to Covid,” says Helen McCallum, the brand manager at Dilmah, an international tea company with a huge market in South Africa.

She says tea was already growing in popularity when the Covid-19 pandemic sparked a resurgence in healthy habits and many coffee fanatics turned to tea because of its substantial benefits as well as the varieties available.

“Tea has 10 times more antioxidants than fruit and vegetables and is also the second most popular drink in the world after water,” said McCallum.

Tea is having its moment, increasing in popularity and used in a variety of ways. Picture: Supplied

From tea clubs to high teas and food pairing, it seems a tea revolution is slowly but steadily under way.

McCallum said those who can’t start the day without a caffeine jolt usually switched from coffee to Morning Premium Ceylon tea which had half the amount of caffeine and didn’t give you the energy fluctuations associated with coffee.

Dilmah are the purveyors of single origin tea from Sri Lanka.

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She said it was started by Merrill Joseph Fernando who used his life’s savings to buy a tea plantation when he retired at the age of 58.

They produced black tea which meant it was fully fermented, green tea which was not fermented, oolong tea which was partially fermented and white tea where the tea buds had to be picked before dawn.

“Only ladies pick the leave because it is such delicate work,” she said

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Apart from the varieties available, drinking tea is an experience in itself.

“The nicer the crockery you use the better. In my experience bone china is just beautiful. Those thick mugs where you have to part your lips to drink the tea alters the taste,” said McCallum.

Gone are the days when tea was traditionally served with scones, cucumber sandwiches or a biscuit.

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And neither is it limited to just adding milk, sugar, lemon or honey to get your preferred taste.

Tea pairings, tea infusions and tea clubs are growing in popularity. Picture: supplied

McCallum said tea has come into its own and is now on par with wine and used in food pairing, tea tastings, in bars to make cocktails and even while cooking.

Her first experience of food pairing was at tea school in Sri Lanka where they paired nine cheeses with three different teas for a “mind-blowing experience”.

“Tea can go with every course of your meal.”

She said hamburgers went well with English breakfast tea because it was a strong dark tea.

Fish paired well with Assam tea while Darjeeling was the perfect accompaniment to cucumber sandwiches.

“Tea has prevented wars because it has such a calming effect,” she said.

McCallum said their tea market was expanding rapidly, especially in Durban.

In December 2018 their online store made an average of R1 500 sales a month, now they were close to R100 000 a month, in addition to their in-store sales.

Adele du Toit from the South African Rooibos Council also attributes the growing tea market to Covid-19 and more health-conscious individuals.

“Rooibos is the rock star of indigenous plants of South Africa.”

She said globally people were becoming more receptive to rooibos not just because of the health benefits but because of the story behind it.

Their biggest export market was Japan.

Du Toit said it was politically correct to refer to rooibos as a tisane because technically the only beverage which could be referred to as tea came from the camellia sinensis plant.

“Other teas are tisanes and can be made from the roots, berries, flowers and leaves of plants while rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) is part of the legume family,” she said.

“Rooibos is amazing and we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg,” said Du Toit.

She said there’s been a lot of innovation in the “rooibos space”; it could be paired with sweet or savoury dishes, added to dishes while cooking because it was a meat tenderiser, used instead of water in dishes or while baking to harness its health benefits.

In addition because of the unique growing requirements and its history, it was used as a tourism marketing tool.

Michalene Theron the marketing co-ordinator of Carmien Teas said they had close to 30 varieties of tea with another 15 expected to be released by the end of this year.

“Our range is massive, all our teas are natural so, for instance, you would find real pieces of citrus in a tea bag.”

She said Carmien Teas consisted of organically grown rooibos and offered “tea experiences” by pairing it with food and snacks similar to wine and biltong.

“We tried to take tea to the next level.”

She said rooibos was a palate cleanser which made it excellent for pairing.

“Whatever you need in your life we have tea for that,” said Theron.

Carmien Teas previously had a tea club and still sends regular newsletters and updates to clients.

She said the tea club would eventually be revived and next on their list of dreams was a tea bar.

Theron said South Africa exported 200 billion tons of rooibos annually. “It’s the champagne of Africa.”

As Monty Python would say: “Make tea not war.”


Don’t boil the water more than once. More than that will result in a metallic taste in your mouth.

Don’t squeeze the tea bag. This will break the tannins and release it into the tea.

Brew three minutes for mild tea and five minutes for strong tea.

Don’t use water that’s too hot because it can make the tea bitter.

Use single origin tea. Blended tea means it’s a mix of tea from all over the world. When you ship from all over and it’s stored for too long it can lose its taste and aroma.

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