Having already received and processed several loads of Rooibos from this year's harvest, our tea-makers are very proud of the high-quality yields coming from their courts. Early sensory tests at our labs confirm this.
Rooibos master Deon Zandberg provides technical on-farm advice to ensure harvesting best practices are maintained while farmer liaison Adel Brand manages the relationships with all our farmers to ensure timely delivery.
Cape Natural Tea Products sources Rooibos from over 150 farmers. Every year from January to March, members of our agriculture division, Cape Natural Agri Services, have their work cut out for them in managing the arrival and processing of freshly harvested Rooibos.
On the farms, row upon row of bright green Rooibos plants makes for a marvellous sight. These summer months are the year's hottest with temperatures reaching up to 45 degrees celsius. The Rooibos plants flourish in the heat and become physiologically ripe.
"It is essential that the plants are harvested at the right time," says Zandberg. Harvesting too early or too late can affect the lifecycle of the plant and the quality of the harvested Rooibos.
The plants are cut by hand with sickles, about ten centimetres from the ground.
Once cut, time is of the essence to ensure the harvested Rooibos reaches the
processing courts before they start to oxidise and change colour. Ideally, the Rooibos should still be green.
WATCH: 2022 Harvest Season Video
At our two main processing courts in Graafwater and VanRhynsdorp, master Rooibos-makers Riaan Niewoudt and Petrus van Wyk work around the clock to receive and process the steady flow of Rooibos coming in from the fields.
The incoming Rooibos is weighed, logged and offloaded. Then, a team of assistants feeds the Rooibos into a cutting machine. These machines are modelled on old-school tobacco cutters, as was used when Rooibos was first processed in the 1800s. These days they are custom-made for Rooibos cutting.
A load of cut Rooibos, still green, is transported onto the concrete court. Laid out into windrows, the Rooibos is bruised, watered and rotavated to kick-start the fermentation process.
Over the course of about 24 hours, depending on the weather, the batch develops its signature red colour and sweet aroma. Each Rooibos-maker has its own way of knowing when the batch is ready.
"I use all five my senses," says Niewoudt, "and when the bees come to buzz around the Rooibos, they're my assistants, then I know the Rooibos is ready to be dried."
The deep-red Rooibos is strewn over the tea court for drying. It doesn't take long under the African sun. Once dried, the Rooibos is gathered and packed into bulk bags.
Our remote labs at each of our tea courts do a preliminary sensory and bulk density analysis of each batch. A sample is also sent to our main quality lab in Cape Town for further testing. This enables us to provide immediate feedback to the farmer.
In our depots, the bulk bags of processed Rooibos is stored until requested by the Cape Town factory for final refining, pasteurisation and blending.