Purple Tea: Read This Guide Now And Avoid Misconceptions

Updated on: April 6, 2023
Author: Nick
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Purple Tea

Purple tea is becoming more and more popular each year, and for good reason. This tea type offers a variety of health benefits, delicious flavors and a unique color that sets it apart from other teas.

In this post, we will discuss what purple tea is, where it comes from, its different types and how it could improve your health.

We will also clear some misconceptions about purple tea. We noticed there is a lot of inaccurate information in terms of why this tea is called purple tea.

And no, it's not a tea that originated from Kenya.

So if you're interested in learning more about purple leaf tea, keep reading!

What is Purple Tea?

Purple tea is a true tea, since it comes from the Camellia sinensis plant species. It is from this same plant that black tea and green tea comes from.

However, purple tea is NOT a new category of tea, if by category you mean black tea, green tea, oolong tea, white tea, and so on.

Purple teas are a group varietals that are high in anthocyanins, which give it its purple coloration.

Anthocyanins are found everywhere in nature, and it's why blueberries, purple carrots, eggplants, butterfly pea flower, black berries, etc, are naturally purple.

Purple teas can be processed in different ways, similar to regular tea leaves, resulting in different types of tea. For example, Kenyan purple teas are processed as black teas, whereas purple teas from Northern Yunnan in China are sometimes processed as Pu'erh teas.

This means the taste of purple tea really depends on where it's cultivated, which parts of the tea plant are used (e.g. the buds vs the leaves), and the processing methods utilized. So there is no single purple tea flavor.

Purple tea boasts many health benefits thanks to its high anthocyanin content.

We'll explore these benefits below.

Where Does Purple Tea Come From?

Let's dive a bit deeper into taxonomy to understand why this tea is so different and where it comes from. As we noted, purple tea is a group of varietals that flushes purple.

So, what is a varietal?

Within a species, there can be varieties. These are a lower taxonomic rank than species. In nature, random mutations occur that can change an organism, but not sufficiently for it to be considered a different species.

In the case of teas, there are two main types of varieties where tea comes from. These are the Camellia sinensis var. sinensis and the Camellia sinensis var. assamica.

Going back to purple teas, we have noted these are a group of varietals that flush purple.

But why?

One reason is the plant's defense mechanism against UV radiation. Anthocyanins, which is what gives purple tea its color, act as a sort of sunscreen in plants.

For example, in the Yunnan province in China, the assamica variety large leaf cultivars sometimes flushes purple when exposed to high UV radiation (i.e. a very sunny year).

Producers in Yunnnan will actually pick these leaves and mix them with Pu-erh teas, or sometimes even make special purple tea cakes called Zi Cha cakes. However, purple tea leaves picked in this way comprise a tiny percentage of all the tea picked in Yunnan province.

There are also varietals that sprout purple buds and leaves by default, due to human manipulation or natural hybridization. There are a couple of these purple teas in China.

One of them is Zi Juan, which is a man made cultivar dating from the 1990s (a cultivar is a plant variety that results from selective breeding to amplify any desired traits). Zi Juan tea originated from a cross of a Fujianese tea plant, that flushed purple, and the var. assamica from Yunnan.

Another one is the Ye Sheng, a wild variety that naturally flushes purple in the wild in Northern Yunnan.

Finally, there is Kenyan purple tea. It is based on a purple flushing variety that was discovered in the Assam Region. Since then, the Tea Research Foundation of Kenya created a cultivar of this wild tea called TRFK 306/1.

This cultivar is the product of 25 years of development and has recently become available for commercial purposes. The Tea Research Institute of Kenya is still continuing to work on this variety, so stay tuned as more cultivars could become available!

Ok...phew, that was a lot, so let's summarize.

Purple teas are a group of varietals that flush purple. These can occur in the wilderness due to UV radiation exposure, or natural hybridization. Purple teas also come from artificially crossing tea varieties and through selective breeding.

Kenyan Purple Tea
Kenyan Purple Tea

What Does Purple Tea Taste Like?

Now that we know a bit more about purple tea, let's discuss its flavor profile.

If you've made it this far, you guessed it right. 

There is no unique "purple tea" taste as this depends on many factors. 

So let's instead discuss the flavor profiles of some specific purple teas.

  • Kenyan Purple Tea: this purple tea is processed as a black tea. It features an earthy flavor, lacking any brightness or floral tones. I personally found it a bit flat, but I'm sure there are many other types of Kenyan purple tea that are bolder.

  • Zi Juan: this purple tea has a flowery, sweet and subtle taste.

  • Ye Sheng: this purple tea features a soft and sweet flavor profile when using the buds. The leaves tend to be bitter. It has an amazing aroma akin to a forest.

As you can see, even within purple teas, there is a huge variety of flavor profiles. Which is amazing, because that means purple teas open a whole new plethora of teas I've yet to taste and discover!

Is Purple Tea Actually Purple?

The plant leaves themselves do have a purple color. When steeped they release some of the anthocyanins which give a slight purplish hue to your tea.

Kenyan purple tea has a green purple hue, whereas Ye Sheng has a yellowish tone with purple hints. Zi Juan tends to have more of a purple color than these other 2 teas.

However...you can enhance the purple color of purple tea.

Try adding some lemon and see some chemistry in action! It will make your tea more acidic, changing the color of the solution.

The anthocyanin molecules react to acidic or alkaline solutions; in the presence of these, they change shape and thus absorb different wavelengths of light.

This is the same process as to why butterfly pea tea changes color.

This is not to be confused with purple tea though, as it's a completely different species.

Butterfly Pea Tea - Purple Tea

How Much Caffeine Does Purple Tea Have?

As purple tea is a true tea, it does contain caffeine.

However, we've seen there are many kinds of purple tea with different cultivation and processing methods.

So the amount of caffeine varies within purple tea.

In general, the caffeine content in tea will depend on:

  • The tea varietal, with the assamica variety containing the most caffeine.

  • How the leaves were processed (e.g. tea leaf cut size, roasting if any).

  • How the tea was cultivated - for example, shade grown teas tend to have higher caffeine levels.

  • The steeping water temperature and steeping time

By the way, there is a misconception that oxidation impacts caffeine levels. It does not.

One of the reasons black teas tend to have higher caffeine than green teas is that in the West, black teas come from the assamica variety which tends to have more caffeine.

What Are the Health Benefits of Purple Tea?

In this section we'll focus on Kenyan purple tea cultivar TRFK 306/1 as I was unable to find research about other types of purple tea in English.

Cultivar TRFK 306/1 has a very high anthocyanin content compared to other teas, about 135-fold (1)

The health benefits of high anthocyanin content from purple tea are:

  • Purple tea can inhibit the growth of cancer cells (lung, breast and cervical carcinoma) (1)

  • Purple tea may reduce inflammation due to its high anthocyanin content (2)

  • The high anthocyanin content of purple tea may reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes (3)

  • Studies suggest that anthocyanins can help regulate blood pressure by preventing it from increasing (4) (5)

  • Purple tea may boost cardiovascular health. Animal and human studies show that anthocyanins can help reduce bad cholesterol while increasing good cholesterol levels (6)

  • A review of 1,197 articles and 49 studies looked at the effect of anthocyanins from berries on cognitive performance. It was found that anthocyanins may boost improvements in memory, attention, psychomotor speed and executive function. (7)

  • Foods that are rich in anthocyanins can promote normal blood vessel function and ability of vessels to widen (8) (9)

It is worth mentioning that other purple tea types could have different health effects. For example, a purple tea Pu-erh would contain beneficial bacteria - a product of fermentation. 

Does Purple Tea Have Any Side Effects?

Yes, it could. If consumed in large quantities, purple tea could cause nausea and upset stomach. This is mostly due to the caffeine so don't go and drink 10 cups of purple tea per day!

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you make purple tea?

This depends on the kind of purple tea. Kenyan purple tea, which is a black tea, should be infused in near boiling water. Ye Shen buds also require near boiling water. Steep it in your teapot for 3-5 minutes. However, if you are unsure, let us know in the comments and we'll be happy to help!

Is purple tea a black tea?

Purple tea can be a black tea, but not necessarily. Kenyan purple tea is processed as black tea, whereas Yunnan purple teas are sometimes processed as Pu-erh teas.

Ye Sheng Purple Tea
Ye Sheng Purple Tea

Bottom Line

Purple tea is a unique and healthy type of tea with many benefits. If you are looking to try something new, purple tea is a great option!

Let us know which type of purple tea you've tried!

Nick loves coffee... Actually, he NEEDS coffee! So, he has dedicated his time to learning all he can about this magical bean. He can make a mean latte, is obsessed with flat whites, and is always up for a cup of java!

This article is intended for informational purposes only. It is not meant to replace professional medical advice, treatment or diagnosis. Do not consume any type of coffee, tea or herbal infusion if you are allergic to it. The information in this article is not intended to treat serious medical conditions. Please seek professional medical advice before using home remedies.

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