First flavour wheel for honeybush tea

A newly-developed honeybush flavour wheel, consisting of 28 flavour and 7 taste and mouthfeel terms, will help tea processors and exporters to market honeybush tea more effectively.

Flavour Wheel
22 May 2012, Stellenbosch

Researchers at the Agricultural Research Council and Stellenbosch University have developed a new flavour wheel to help South Africa’s emerging honeybush tea industry to characterise honeybush tea accurately and to market honeybush tea more effectively on global tea markets.

The research project was led by Professor Lizette Joubert of the ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij as part of an indigenous knowledge research project focusing on the commercialisation potential of Cyclopia maculata – a honeybush species that grows naturally in the region of Genadendal and Bereaville. She worked closely with food science researcher Nina Muller and MSc student Alicia Theron at Stellenbosch University.

The research was funded by the Department of Science and Technology via the National Research Foundation.

“Teas are complex products with many different flavour and aroma compounds that are often difficult to identify and describe,” explains Prof Joubert. “However, to market the tea effectively in highly competitive international tea markets, it is essential to be able to describe the characteristics of a specific type of tea in a language that tea buyers understand.”

“The honeybush flavour wheel will be a useful quality tool for producers, marketers and buyers to share information about specific tea batches and to profile and position speciality products,” she adds. “Our group recently developed a similar flavour wheel for the rooibos industry that has proved to be a valuable quality and communication tool.”

A panel of trained tasters of Stellenbosch University evaluated 58 honeybush tea infusions from six different honeybush species. They found that flavour of honeybush tea can typically be described as floral, sweet, fruity and plantlike, with a sweet taste and a slight astringent mouthfeel. The sensory panel did, however, find significant taste and aroma differences between different honeybush species. For example, the type of honeybush that grows naturally in the Genadendal region (Cyclopia maculata) results in tea with a relatively strong spicy cassia/cinnamon aroma and flavour.

“Most brands of honeybush tea on supermarket shelves are a mixture of two or more Cyclopia species,” explains Prof Joubert. “We worked with six different species to develop this wheel and it is therefore a generic tool for honeybush. Our next challenge is to refine the tool specifically for different species.”

“Understanding the flavour and aroma variations between species and tea from different regions can help us to develop honeybush tea products for specific niche markets. Processors can also use this information to ensure that they process and blend different honeybush species optimally to achieve a desirable flavour profile.”

Notes for editors
  • Like rooibos, honeybush is a uniquely South African herbal tea.
  • It is made from the leaves and stems of the indigenous Cyclopia shrub that grows naturally in specific fynbos regions in an area ranging from Piketberg in the Western Cape to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.
  • The 23 known honeybush species – all belonging to the genus Cyclopia – each have a characteristic distribution in nature. Some species prefer sandy, coastal plains, while others flourish on cool and moist mountain slopes.
  • Most of South Africa’s honeybush crop comes from people harvesting wild-growing honeybush – especially Cyclopia intermedia (“bergtee”). A small, but growing number of farmers grow specific species, such as Cyclopia subternata (“vleitee”) and Cyclopia genistoides (“kustee”, also known as coastal tea) commercially.
  • South Africa currently exports more than 200 tons of honeybush tea per year to more than 25 countries, but the demand for honeybush far outstrips the supply. Consumers around the world are increasingly interested in honeybush tea, because of its unique flavour and health properties. Honeybush can also be used in value-added foods, medicines and cosmetics.
  • The ARC encourages sustainable honeybush farming – rather than the harvesting of wild honeybush – as the key to realising the significant growth potential of this young industry. Ongoing ARC research focuses on sustainable and profitable honeybush farming, specifically for emerging farmers.

More information about honeybush
  • SA Honeybush Tea Association (SAHTA): www.sahoneybush.co.za
  • Agricultural Research Council: www.arc.agric.za/home.asp?pid=4045

High-resolution honeybush photos: http://www.sahta.co.za/photos/general-honeybush-photos.html

Issued by: Southern Science ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) on behalf of the Agricultural Research Council (Honeybush Tea Indigenous Knowledge Project).

Media enquiries
  1. Prof Lizette Joubert; Tel: 021-809-3444; Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  2. Nina Muller ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )