What is Purple Tea?
The Purple Leaf Tea is a cultivar of the species Camellia Sinensis (more commonly known as "the tea shrub") The Latin name Sinensis means "from China" where the cultivation and use of the evergreen shrub were first discovered by European explorers.
The two main varieties under cultivation of the species Camellia Sinensis, are var. Sinensis, and var. Assamica, the latter of which was planted back in 1903 to introduce tea in Kenya. The large-leaf tea leaves and leaf buds have since been used to produce quality Kenyan black tea.
Kenyan Purple Tea
When small quantities of wild purple tea bushes were found in the Assam region of India, the Tea Research Foundation of Kenya cross-bred the Camellia Assamica - the most popular variety used to produce black, green, yellow, white tea and with this begun a 30-year journey from development to commercialisation of purple tea. The motivation for this was to increase foreign exchange by moving away from Kenya's black tea production, 96% of which is exported in bulk and used for blending lower quality teas from other countries.
If you’re wondering, no, there are no dyes or anything else unnatural in purple tea. The colour change is natural chemistry, and the name itself comes from the appearance that the leaves grow green naturally, and flush to have a purple colouration as they mature. The infusion is light and varies from a slight light to a dark purple hue.
Grown in high altitude areas (at an elevation of between 4,500 and 7,500 feet) the plant produces a higher level of antioxidants than other teas, to protect the leaves from the high exposure to ultraviolet rays of the sun. Because of this high altitude, no pesticides are used nor required.
This is also the only known cultivar to contain anthocyanin, the flavonoid responsible for giving certain fruits and vegetables, their purplish color. The word anthocyanin is derived from two Greek words anthos, (flower), and kyanos, which means dark blue, revealing their important characteristic as natural colorants.
Science confirms health* benefits of Purple Tea
Ongoing scientific studies have shown that anthocyanins may benefit brain health, help to lower inflammation and, fight cancer and heart disease amongst others. The caffeine content is also significantly lower than Black and green tea. For more on the medicinal value of Kenyan purple tea benefits, we've covered a great deal on this unique purple leaf tea.
Below is a more scientific breakdown of the compounds found in purple tea.
*Disclaimer: This for informational purposes only and not intended to replace medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek professional medical advice before choosing home remedies.
How Purple Tea is made
Usually produced like oolong teas, the leaves are harvested, wilted, and undergo a steam treatment before being rolled, shaped, and dried. When brewed, the liquor is a light reddish/dark purple, thanks to the unique color of its leaves.
Types of Purple Tea
The appearance, shape, and flavor can vary wildly depending on the region where it’s grown and how it’s processed. The types of Purple tea a buyer wants for their target market can also be customized accordingly, by skilled tea masters. This can result in:
Purple Tea Whole leaf
Purple tea hand-rolled - small, long, and twisted
Purple tea lu
Purple tea ball-shaped
Purple Tea Orthodox
Grand Cru Purple Tea
Delicately fine-tuned tea from highly skilled tea masters, tended by exclusive order.
Purple Tea Rolled - 1 leaf and bud
Purple Tea Tips
What does Purple Tea taste like?
The taste of Purple tea can be marketed in different ways depending on the characteristics of each type, for some may have a light body and mellow flavor while others have a pleasant and woody flavour. When steeped with less than boiling water the taster can experience less of the astringency typically associated with Purple Tea and taste more like green tea. Lemon has been known to neutralise for those who may find it unpalatable and several Kenyan purple tea brands like KABAKI Purple Tea have discovered interesting ways to enhance this taste using different types of fruity fusions and varieties.
A guide to buying the right Kenyan Purple Tea
The quality of purple tea, just like any other variety is usually assessed by skilled tea tasters through sight, touch, smell, and taste. No size fits all and as such, they also consider growing conditions, characteristics such as the appearance of the tea before preparation of liquor (shape, colour, and evenness), the appearance of the infused leaf, and the appearance, aroma, and taste of the final liquor to determine the best taste that is preferred in different markets.
Opportunities for Purple Tea
For Black or green tea lovers, purple tea lends itself to blending and can be combined with other teas for those extra benefits
Extracted catechins, anthocyanins, anthocyanins can be used in drug supplements, preservatives, and other industrial uses
The polyphenol extracts are also beneficial in pharmacological and industrial uses
Manufacture of more instant teas such as Ready To Drink (RTD) teas is still undeveloped
Other fast-moving consumer goods such as health care products, foods, and confectioneries can also capitalise on this demand
Having tested thousands of teas, we export outstanding quality regularly and take pride in offering tea importers some of the rarest and most authentic purple teas from Kenya. Purple tea may be produced from tea from more than one garden or region or a blend of teas from two or more origins. We particularly take pride in single-origin and single harvest from our independent artisan farmer from Central Kenya, a region prized for its terroir, masterful processing, and minimum and exclusive production quantities.
Special thanks to Samson Kamunya, Ph.D. Plant Breeder & Centre Director, Tea Research Institute of Kenya.