Making our way from Cape Town heading towards the Cederberg, we take a welcome break from driving into Bergendal, the home of Carmién Tea. We are greeted warmly by Ilze Bruwer, the Quality Assurance manager, on this somewhat blustery day. She leads us into the fields to introduce us to the bush whose leaves’ produce my favourite tea: the Rooibos, or Red Bush as its known in other parts of the world, and sometimes goes by the nickname; African Red Tea.
Bergendal Tour – The Carmién Tea Experience
Ilze explains that Rooibos is only grown in a narrow 60,000 hectare belt along the West Coast. The climate in this part of the Western Cape is ideal for the cultivation of the plant, with suitable temperatures, the right amount of sunshine and rainfall.
Subtle variations of the plant occur due to location, the climate and varying soil nutrients, which results in teas with different cup infusions, texture, and aroma. Much like Wine.
As we vie for dry spots beneath the umbrellas, Ilze enthusiastically explains the life of a Rooibos plant. The seedlings are planted in the field about two months after they have been sown. After 18 months it will be harvested for the first time. This happens once a year, between January and April. Traditional tools and methods are employed in the harvesting, which leaves 50cm of the bush exposed above ground.
We escape from the rain to see where the process continues after the harvest. In the factory the leaves are cut into 1.5mm– 5mm lengths. The stems are cut with the leaves, which gives the tea its woody aroma. Next up is the fermentation process where the tea develops its amber hue and fruity caramelized signature. The tea is then watered and aired, allowed to “sweat” or ferment for about 10-14 hours, after which it is sundried. It is at this point Ilze introduces us to the idea of Green Rooibos! If the tea is not fermented, it is simply dried,and Pasteurized, which will give the dry tea a lighter more green colour and yellowish cup infusion, and a very mild green/grassy flavour.
The final stage in the process is the sorting. A team of skilled workers, sort the leaves according to length, colour and taste. Carmién Tea exports a large portion of its product to the international market, and of course supplies local markets. Following a thorough exploration of the farm and factory, it’s now time to go taste some of that deliciousness.
In the tasting room we are initiated into another aspect of the Carmién Tea experience: blending your own tea. Browsing the array of wonderfully tempting possibilities, your entire concept of Rooibos is being reshaped by the seemingly unlimited combinations. Ilze interrupts our giddy excitement for a moment, letting us know that the natural sweetness and gentle texture of the leaves, it is best experienced when it is served at 60°C.
Sipping on hot blends of Vanilla Mocha, Black Current, Fennel Aniseed, and my absolute favourite: Ginger Chili, Ilze talks at length about how Carmién Tea is making a positive impact within the community and nature. There is virtually no waste in the tea making process. The powder byproduct is used to make Red Espresso, and unused stalks for compost or mulch. Carmién is supplied by several local farms, organic and non-organic, and all focusing on sustainable farming.
The community is very important to Carmién Tea and they ensure that the children are taken care of at the community crèche, “The community crèche,” explains Ilze, “assists our workers and cares for our future generation. Many of our employees are Carmién shareholders.”
Due to the known health benefits of Rooibos, Carmién Tea makes regular donations of their products to old ages homes. With a warm heart and a palate whose horizons have been expanded, we thank Ilze and head for home, boxes of Rooibos in hand, to help warm up the cold winter months.
Rooibos Fields, Factory Visit, Tea Tasting and Video Screening R80 per person during the Harvest Season (January – April) or R50 per person for the rest of the year. Mondays – Fridays at Bergendal Carmién Tea. (Tours dependant on availability and weather)
Carmién Tea: [email protected]
Pairing at Hebron
Tea, wine and flavour pairing R50 per person at Hebron (Wednesday – Sundays) situated on the Piekenierskloof Pass on the N7
Tea, wine and 3 small course meal pairing R150 per person at Hebron (Wednesdays – Sundays) situated on the Piekenierskloof Pass on the N7
All options must be pre-booked:
Where: Bergendal Farm, Paleisheuwel Road, Citrusdal
Contact: +27 (0)22 921 8900
Take the road less travelled in the West Coast Way
For more information on West Coast Way Routes and the list of 101+ Things To See And Do in the Cape West Coast, visit our eventspage. Choose to go on a self-guided adventure drive by following the routes, or book an air-conditioned trip to top West Coast attractions in South Africa.