When you next sip rooibos tea, raise your cup to the man who ensures the perfect consistency, bag after bag.
Petrus van Wyk loves his work as manager of the Graafwater Teeverwerkers Tea Court. Since 2015, he’s been at the helm of carving rooibos delivered as wet product at the tea courts, drying, bagging and delivering the dry rooibos, ready for sterilisation and pasteurisation at Cape Natural Tea Products’ head office in Blackheath.
He explained, “First we sort the Aspalathus linearis bundles at the processing facility, then feed these carefully into our purpose-built, state-of-the-art cutting machines. Depending on our clients’ requirements, the machines maintain a uniform cutting length of between 2.5 mm to 3.5 mm to ensure a neat and uniform appearance of the final product.” (Rooibos is graded mainly by the percentage of needle or leaf to stem content in the mix. A higher leaf content results in a darker liquor, richer flavour, and a less ‘dusty’ aftertaste.)
“The wet, freshly cut and bruised rooibos is then placed in a long, low heap across our tea court to sweat,” he continued. “This is a carefully managed process of enzymatic oxidation during fermentation which causes the rooibos to change from green to the characteristic red/amber colour, while unleashing the sweet-smelling flavour and distinctive rooibos aroma.
“After the sweating process, the fermented rooibos is spread out across the tea court to dry naturally in the hot Graafwater sun. This might sound like a lengthy rigmarole, but the cutting, fermenting and drying processes are completed in less than 24 hours.” Despite the quick turn-around time, the work often requires getting up at 4h30 in the morning, including weekends, to rotavate the sweating rooibos heaps on the tea court yet again.
After drying, the dried product is sucked up and fed into 350-kg bulk bags which are then graded, labelled and transported to Cape Natural Tea Products’ depot in Graafwater, from where they’re sent to processing facilities in Cape Town.
What Petrus enjoys most of all about his job is the technicality of the production process. “And I love the farmers. Getting their product ship-shape is an absolute pleasure because the end-result affects the grading and therefore the price they fetch.”
A firm believer in multiple income streams, he rents rooibos land in a partnership, runs a pest control company with his wife Mariette during weekends and is in the process of securing a diesel distributorship.
He admits to being a farmer at heart. “I was raised as a boerseun in Nababeep, so after matric I first farmed in the Potchefstroom area before entering the tea industry in 2003.”
It’s patently clear that Petrus is a hands-on man. So you’ll find him tinkering around his newly-bought house, fixing or changing things, and then tending to his pride and joy: an emerald-green lawn. This has proved to be challenging, not only because of the area’s constrained water resources, but because Alsatian-Cross Sasha and mischievous Jack Russell Heidi are intent on doing their bit for lawn ‘aeration’.
To veg out I braai
My sport is darts
As a sport spectator, I love watching rugby
My pet place on the West Coast is Elands Bay
My favourite restaurant is Elands Bay Hotel
I love eating braaivleis
My signature drink is rum and Coke
Best TV programme is Ouboet en Wors
Favourite read is Rapport
Petrus can be contacted on 082 0470572.