Stumbling through the bush, thirsting for water on a hot day, brought me to this pool. The rich, deep redness of the water startled me — I’ve drank reddish water before, but this was a deep red, and I was a little wary of taking my drink.
I lowered my enamel mug and watched as the water slowly poured in; clear, yellow, orange, and then that ruby-red. I raised it to drink, thought of rooibos tea and…. it was fine, nearly tasteless and rather nice.
The water has turned red due to the amount of tannins that have leached from living plants or released from decaying plants. Tannin is a compound found naturally in many plant species as a chemical defense from grazing animals. While tannins may discolor or provide an odor to the water, it is typically harmless to drink. Drinking tannins is typically described as a “dry, puckering mouthfeel” which may be familiar from unripened fruit, tasting a banana peel, or drinking some red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon. “Tasting” tannins is not possible, rather, the tannins react chemically, they bind with your saliva proteins, and lead to a sandpapery sensation.
And while I had imagined rooibos tea while drinking the water, it actually has a very low tannin content and is not a good comparison to this “bush tea”. But I must admit, the reassurance of thinking of rooibos tea, and the fond memories of drinking what might as well be the flavor of South African Western Cape, made drinking the water all the more enjoyable.