By Linda Wallace

Author's thoughts on the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Red Bush Tea

I had a serendipitous moment this week while searching for herbal teas. My mother has been advised to avoid caffeine as part of the treatment for GERD. I’m not a fan of herbal teas, but some of the ones I’ve tried that tasted the best to me were produced by STASH Tea, so I went to Safeway to find a sampler for my mother, and there I found a box of red tea.

If you’re familiar with the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, you’ll immediately know why I was so excited. Precious Ramotswe, the proprietor of Botswana's leading, and only, female detective agency, drinks buckets of red bush tea. Mma Ramotswe or her secretary, Mma Makutsi, brew bush tea for all occasions: visiting with clients and friends, relaxing under the shade of a baobab tree or to mull over a vexing problem. When I saw the box of Honeybush Blush, I pictured myself reading the next book in the series (I’ve already read the latest, Blue Shoes and Happiness), a cup of red bush tea in hand. It would almost be as though I were sitting next to Mma Ramotswe watching the giraffes stroll by. How perfect!

When I first found the tea, I thought it was produced by STASH. It was next to other STASH teas. What marketing genius, I thought, to capitalize on the popularity of the McCall Smith series. When I got home, I tried to find the tea on STASH’s Web site for more details. I wondered if the tea company would credit No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency as the inspiration for their new product. But there was no bush tea to be found. Practically everything else you might want to know about tea—it’s a great site—but nothing about the red bush version.

A closer inspection of the box of tea I’d purchased revealed that the manufacturer is actually Kalahari Limited, Authentically South African. Kalahari offers eight different red tea flavors, but all are based on rooibos (Aspalathus linearus), pronounced "royboss," also known as red tea or red bush. The tea I bought contains honeybush herb, which is also from South Africa and is supposed to be sweeter than red bush—not that I could attest to that as the brewed tea tasted just as yucky to me as all the other herbal teas I’ve ever tried.

Still, the taste didn’t deter me from sipping several cups of red bush tea while reading Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, the second novel in McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie-The Sunday Philosophy Club series. The Dalhousie series is set in misty Edinburgh rather than the desert of the Kalahari, so the effect wasn’t quite right, but oh well. Sometimes you have to suffer for literature.

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