Rooibos Tea Cuts Through European Red Tape

Rooibos Tea Cuts Through European Red Tape

What do champagne, Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese, and alfajores all have in common? Well, besides being mind-bendingly delicious in their own way, each of those foods is on the European Union’s Protected Designation of Origin list (PDO). PDO status was created by the EU to specially designate food, wines, and agricultural products that have strong links to the places in which they are made, often with traditional methods –  protecting that product’s name and reputation from fraudulent use.

This Eurospecific designation has now branched out into other areas of the world, with the addition of another of my absolute favourites, rooibos tea. Rooibos – “red bush” in Afrikaans – is a herbal tea that is grown in the Cedarberg region of South Africa, which can be brewed and enjoyed any way black tea is.(Seriously, a caffeine-free cuppa with a bit of milk, and a biscotti for dipping is the perfect nightcap.) Rooibos tea’s bid for EU protection is an interesting peek into the high-stakes world of food certification, as Patrick Egwu of Quartz Africa relates:

“In the past, the South African Rooibos council has been involved in legal battles over the illegal use of the product’s name in other countries. This included stopping a French company in 2013 from trademarking the name. But with the recognition, [South African Rooibos Council’s Marthane] Swart says this will solve these issues. […]

Swart told Quartz that the use of the EU PDO logo on the tea indicates quality, reliability, and originality to consumers of the product. According to a study by the European Commission, food and drinks with geographical designations generated € 77.1 ($91.7 billion) in 2017.

EU certification also results in premium pricing for products. According to Swart, ‘The European market tends to favor any product with such recognition and you can normally earn a higher price for the product,’ she says. ‘We don’t know how it will happen for Rooibos, but we are certainly hopeful that it will happen.’”

It seems that the logic of a South African product gaining EU PDO certification lies in unlocking the European market for real rooibos tea. This makes sense: The existing tea market is big, and growing, with Ireland shouldering the bulk of European consumption. If Europeans have a taste for a new flavour, rooibos could be in a perfect position for business. And I’m personally glad both industry and consumer get something out of this: Having had a cup or two of spurious blends in my day, I appreciate that someone is invested in what ends up in my cup!