Rooibos Journey #2: where the red tea grows

Rooibos Journey #2: where the red tea grows

Here the second part of our diary in search of the red tea from South Africa called Rooibos:

Read here the Italian version of this article

Day #2: VISIT AT CARMIEN TEA FARM AND THE OLD VILLAGE

 “Today is the day!”. We marked the 24th March as the most important day of our adventure when we got in touch with the Carmien Tea Farm several months ago, the first one who replied to us when we started planning our journey. The Carmien Tea Farm is one of the biggest and most famous Rooibos ranches in South Africa and it was founded by Mrs. Mientjie Mouton more than 10 years ago; this charming lady named it CARMIEN, a word mixing the name of her twin sister  – one of the most popular food editor of the Country – and her one. It tooks only ten minutes by car from Hebron, where we were settling, to the Farm: up there Marina Nefdt was waiting for us to set off on our brilliant tour.

CARMIEN TEA FARM

Marina welcomed us with a huge smile when we arrived. She is very kind and friendly, I mean, exactly like we expected. After introducing each others, we moved immediately towards the farmed area for a walk in order to discover the unknown bush called Rooibos (the name in Afrikaans derives from rood bush, as Dutch people used to call it “red bush”). They informed us that the Rooibos plantations had already been harvested during the summer period from January to April, so now it is the right time to cut and collect from the fields and dry it before the coming rainy winter. By the way we could still catch sight of the small bushes cut down just only few days before and see them first-hand.

Diario di viaggio alla scoperta del Rooibos n.2, Carmien Tea farm - picture by Stefano Adami

Marina explained to us that the Aspalathus Linearis bush can grow to sizes of nearly 1,5 m in some areas ; it is usually planted into the ground but the seeds can be transplanted after a short germination stage as well, and they are allowed to grow for 18 months before harvesting the first time. The crop is gathered from the second year, the cut and the leaves are processed during the summer, between January to April months. Only two external agents contribute in the overall growth: the water, spread over the chopped leaves which makes them turn red, and the sun which promotes the dryness.

Diario di viaggio alla scoperta del Rooibos n.2, Carmien Tea farm - picture by Stefano Adami

All around the tea fields you can spot some small dwellings where the workers live in with their families. According to Marina, the Carmien Tea Farm promotes a sustainable development for any members involved in the production process: indeed there is a school right close to the main building, where the employees’ children can do different courses, learning peacefully subjects as botany and agricultural science, too. Worthy of admiration!

Diario di viaggio alla scoperta del Rooibos n.2, Carmien Tea farm - picture by Stefano Adami

DISCOVERING THE FACTORY

There were unexpected treasures on our way. After leaving the plantation area, we turned back and entered the main factory where the Rooibos leaves are processed: they are gathered in the main courtyards, previously spread open air to let them dry.

N.B. This process regards only the classic Rooibos red tea: (indeed there is a further variety called “green Rooibos” which does not pass through the watering and the fermenting process ) practices but the recently cut leaves are directly dropped into the sifting machine. This tea is highly required both for its smoothy taste and for its rich content of antioxidants, although it is more laborious to produce than others.

Diario di viaggio alla scoperta del Rooibos n.2, Carmien Tea farm - picture by Stefano Adami

ROOIBOS TEA TASTING

Our daily tour ended with a real Rooibos Tea Tasting (with capital letters!). Marina brewed us a range of different infusions: the classic one, the green one with Honeybush and mint, a blend of Rooibos, ginger and lemongrass, as a spicy version and, last but not least, the new entry “Rooibos Flowers” by Carmien. Delightful tasting!

Roobos diary n.2 - Picture by Stefano Adami

Before enjoying the tea tasting above mentioned, we got the opportunity to talk to Mr. Danie Brink which gave us a panoramic view about the Rooibos culture, and it is said some experts are able to recognise and distinguish the Rooibos leaves from their colour, aroma, and the type of cut; they usually employ a taste-wheel and the major experts can even identify the farm the leaves come from. It sounds incredible!

We hugely thanks Marina and Mr. Brink and we said goodbye with the promise to meet up again…  maybe for a Tea & Wine tasting at the Hebron Guest House.

 

CITRUSDAL VALLEY & THE OLD VILLAGE

Our hearts were pounding with excitement: the visit at Carmien was something impressive as well as we feel a little bit dazed by the tons of information we collected. So, in order to calm down this kind of thrilling, we decided to stroll about the Old Village: just there an area extends for miles which is identified as the original place the Dutch settled in during the middle of 1800s establishing their first farms devoted to fruit trees growing, hence the name of the valley – Citrusdal.

Roobos diary n.2 - Picture by Stefano Adami

BACK TO HISTORY

Jan van Riebeeck, a Dutch colonist, launched an expedition in 1660 to explore the backcountry of Cape Town. During the exploration, led by Jan Dankaert, it was discovered a proper land for fruit trees and they finally erected Modderfontein in 1725, that was the Afrikaan name for Old Village which became the first farm in the valley belonging to the Dutch East India Company (VOC ). So a new settlement grew up and the farmers who lived just there used to provide the East India Company (established in the south of the country) with meat, fruit and vegetables, as well as the Dutch ships that passed from Cape of Good Hope on their way to the East.

Roobos diary n.2 - Picture by Stefano Adami

 

At the present time you can admire this group of restored cottages at the Old Village and you feel like the time had stopped all around. To our great surprise, we just bumped into an excellent restaurant bearing the same name! We could not stop looking at the typical landscape colours surrounding the Old Village, enchanted by the local flora and fauna which is, moreover, listed as of special natural significance, just one of the six Vegetable Kingdoms in the world! Everyone here drinks Rooibos, even the birds perched on the trees: that’s amazing!!!

Roobos diary n.2 - Picture by Stefano Adami

 

COCKTAIL TASTING AT THE PIEKENIERKLOOF RESTAURANT

The sun finally set down and suddenly we realized that we were a little bit late for the wine tasting we had booked with Françoise van Rhyr, manager at the Piekenierskloof restaurant, where we enjoyed our dinner the night before.

Once arrived we expected a plain wine tasting as planned, but upon our arrival we identified soon some cocktail glasses on the counter, too. All things were arranged for us to experience something unconventional: a Rooibos tea-cocktail tasting… brilliant!

Tea Cocktail tasting - foto di Stefano Adami

The bartender showed us various drinks, each of them made with an infusion of Rooibos tea as a variant: some cocktails reminded us how to make a Tea Martini, but some of them sounded really unusual, such as the Irish Coffee made with Rooibos espresso. Well, yes! From the mince of Rooibos leaves you can obtain a mixture suitable for coffee machines, moka pots and capsules … we were pleasantly shocked!

Tea Coktail Tsting - foto di Stefano Adami

Françoise revealed to us that all the restaurants and hotel facilities in this area care a lot about the promotion and how they intend to increase the value of their main edible resources, wine and Rooibos tea included. Honestly, we had an impressive and unique culinary experience!

DINNER @ THE OLD VILLAGE

The day did not finish like that: we kept on discovering new things over Rooibos tea and its truly amazing cooking variety. No way to stop it!

After enjoying our late afternoon walk we came back to the Old Village Restaurant we chanced upon during the day, well-known for its typical Citrusdal cuisine. The table we had made a reservation for was ready and we were then seated by Sonia Hager, the owner: we were served with a great Old Block Pinotage 2013 from Darling Cellars and some bread accompanied by a delicious quince jam. All the courses looked really impressive! We tasted some chicken legs with potatoes and mushrooms and some pork shank, too. We could not ask for more! We thanked Sonia for our lovely evening and then we fixed an appointment for a tour inside the cottages complex in order to see something new… we were so curious about everything around!

Old Village - foto di Stefano Adami

Let’s put a tick by this second day! We were fully satisfied and delighted by everything this enchanting Citrusdal Valley offered us. So we set out for our accommodation at Hebron  admiring the milky way overhead. A new day of discoveries was already on its way.

…To be Continued…

Click here to read the Travel Diary in Rooibos #1

Read here the Diary #3

Words by Elisa Da Rin Puppel. English review by Alessandra Rovetta.

Pictures by Stefano Adami

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