The next thing big in tea is purple!
A new cultivar (cultivated and/or farmed strand) of Assam tea, that is being dubbed “purple tea” due to the reddish hue of the leaves, is starting to hit the commercial market, all the way from plantations in Kenya. Hailed as offering increased health benefits and greater economic value for Kenyan farmers, it looks like this tea is set to achieve big things in the future.
Where Does It Come From?
Purple tea, known officially as TRFK 306/1, has been in development with the Tea Research Foundation of Kenya (TRFK) for 25 years, in an attempt to both strengthen Kenya’s tea plants and diversify tea trade. Currently, Kenya’s tea exports are predominantly 96% black tea that is generally low grade and sold for blending. Understandably, low quality equates to low prices, thus low revenue for farmers, which in turn makes the Kenyan tea industry of low economic worth. Furthermore, Kenya’s tea trade suffers repercussions from natural onslaughts: drought, frosts, pests and disease. Purple tea, having been pre-released for commercial use in response to Vision 2030, a national long term development plan that aims to transform Kenya into a middle income country, is deemed to be a partial solution to both natural and economic problems. This is because purple tea is a generally more resistant and withstanding plant and is economically more valuable, with a worth currently thought to fetch 3 to 4 times more revenue than standard Kenyan black tea.
Cultivar TRFK 306/1 has a high content of antioxidant anthocyanin, which is responsible for the reddish purple hue in the leaves and can also be found in blueberries, plums and eggplant. A notable quality of this antioxidant is its ability to act as a PH indicator, meaning it changes colour when acidic or alkaline solutions are added to it. A colour changing tea!
Is it New?
It is important to note that technically this is not a “new” tea, just a new strand. All tea comes from the same plant, Camilla Sinesis, which is thought to have over 3000 different strands, of which over 1500 are cultivated. It is actually the post picking process that creates the different tea types such as black, green, white and oolong. As with other teas, the leaves of “purple tea” can be picked and processed in such a way as to create any of the tea types. Furthermore, whilst 306/1 is a new strand, China, Sri Lanka and India also harbour related strands that are high in anthocyanin. So, although this strand is unique to Kenya, it certainly isn’t alone.
The Health Benefits
As all tea is from the same plant, they all comprise of similar beneficial components. Variations in quantity of these components are usually affected by how the leaves are processed, with unoxidised tea (green and white) containing the highest amount of antioxidants. As this strand is fairly new, there are few studies conducted on it. However, the antioxidant anthocyanin is found to contain vitamin C and have anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and collagen supporting properties.
Purple tea is now marking its way into main stream and westernised tea markets, so keep a look out!
You can experience the flavours of purple tea in this review of Purple Tea.