While many people are familiar with other common categories of tea, like black tea or green tea, red tea is a lesser-known category of tea that can refer to a variety of different beverages, including black teas grown in China and other Asian countries, as well as herbal teas such as rooibos and hibiscus.
Rooibos is sometimes referred to as red tea, due to the reddish color of the tea leaves and the tea when brewed, as well as to the historical etymology of the word. Rooibos is Dutch for “red bush,” and is sometimes also called “red bush tea" colloquially. Rooibos tea is made from the needle-like leaves of aspalathus linearis, a plant that grows in a mountainous region near the South African Atlantic coast. Owing to the unique climate and soil conditions of the region, aspalathus linearis is extremely difficult to grow in other places. Rooibos has been enjoyed for many generations in South Africa, which continues to be its premier exporter around the world.
Rooibos teas are naturally caffeine-free, and have a mild, sweet flavor that some people describe as being similar to black tea. Rooibos can be consumed on its own, but also comes in a variety of different flavors, including caffeine-free versions of popular teas such as Earl Grey Rooibos and Rooibos Chai.
Chinese black tea
In China, what westerners typically refer to as black tea is called “red tea". This moniker refers to the reddish color of the brewed tea. These Chinese teas tend to be slightly lighter and mellower than their Indian counterparts, resulting in a bright coppery hue. In China and in other Asian countries, “black tea” or “dark tea” refers to aged, partially fermented teas like pu-erh. These aged teas are also sometimes referred to as heicha.
Like other types of tea, Chinese “red tea” is made from the leaves of the camellia sinensis tea plant, and is high in antioxidants and other beneficial properties. This tea contains a moderate amount of caffeine, about half that of a cup of coffee.
Hibiscus is also sometimes called red tea due to its bright red color. Hibiscus tea is an herbal tea made from the dried petals of the hibiscus plant (hibiscus sabdariffa) and is also sometimes known as roselle. It has a pleasantly tart, sweet flavor reminiscent of cranberry, and brews up a vibrant magenta color. Hibiscus is also used to add color and flavor to many other varieties of herbal tea. This tea is enjoyed worldwide, and is often sweetened and spiced depending on regional culture and cuisine.
As an herbal tea, hibiscus is naturally caffeine-free, making it a great option for those looking to enjoy a cup of tea before bed or steer clear of caffeine entirely. Hibiscus is also packed with a variety of health benefits, including high levels of vitamin C, iron, and antioxidants. While hibiscus tea can be served hot, it also makes a delicious iced tea!