This year a curious new tea has made its way from Kenya into the cups of tea lovers around the world—purple tea. I wanted to experiment myself and so got my hands on some Purple Mint and Whole Purple Leaf tea from the folks at JusTea Beverages.
The emergence of purple tea in Kenya comes at an opportune moment—Kenya is the world’s third largest tea producer, creating more than 300,000 tonnes of tea each year. Most of this is cheap black tea produced for tea bags sold around the world. As black tea prices drop, having this unique new product in an already major export market means tea lovers can enjoy this unique innovation in a traditional industry, and Kenyan tea farmers can make a better wage from their tea harvests. Read JusTea’s origin story if you’d like to learn more about that.
JusTea is a vocal proponent of sustainable support for local Kenyan farmers. They believe in ethical fair trade practices and their tea leaves are grown organically. They even have a Meet the Farmers page on their website, where you can get to know their team. I might be a nerd, but I absolutely love stuff like this. Of course, as a Canadian I also love that JusTea has a Canadian connection and team in Vancouver, BC! Hello from this East Coast Nova Scotian!
What is purple tea?
Purple tea is a cultivar of the camellia sinensis assamica varietal. All tea—white, green, oolong, pu’erh, black, and now purple, comes from camellia sinensis. This cultivar, colloquially known as ‘purple tea’ originated in Kenya. It’s called purple tea because of the plant’s unique purple-reddish leaves (most other camellia sinensis have green leaves). The colour comes from anthocyanins—natural red, blue, and purple pigments like those found in blueberries, pomegranates, or grapes.
Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants, which may boost the immune system and reduce inflammation in the human body. Studies have even shown a link between these antioxidants and a reduced risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Of course, there’s another, less health-related reason than anthocyanins make purple tea fun to drink…
The tea is actually purple!
Well, okay. Maybe like a healthy magenta.
Why does the tea turn purple?
I’m glad you asked! Let’s get sciencey for a second. So our friends the anthocyanins are water-soluble vacuolar pigments that, depending on the pH, may appear red, purple, or blue. Basically, think of them like little Pacmans—they’ll change colour depending on what ghosts (in this case, the acidic lemon) they eat. Their colour reflects the acidity of their environment, so if you have a strong steep, or a stronger or weaker acid, the colour of the tea will be more or less intense, accordingly.
You survived the science lesson! This means you now have the knowledge to make cool, psychedelic cocktails with your newfound science knowledge. Purple haze, anyone?
And if you’re wondering—no, there are no dyes or anything else unnatural in purple tea. The colour change is natural chemistry, and the tea bushes grow naturally purple in the fields.
Whole Leaf Purple Tea
The leaves in the package are small, long, and twisted. Looks very similar to a Chinese black tea. The liquor itself was a pale green. The wet leaves are surprisingly big—more curled up than I thought they’d be. There’s a slight red hue to them, almost like a lightly oxidized oolong.
The taste is very light, with almost no astringency. Reminded me of a cross between a typical white and green tea. A sort of fresh spring veggies with a hint of stone fruit.
When I squeezed lemon into it, it turned a very fun, vibrant pink—I know, I know, it’s supposed to be purple tea, but I think the purpley colour applies more to the plants. It’s a very happy pink though, and the colour change is pretty intense. See for yourself in the photos below.
You can buy Purple Leaf Tea from JusTea here.
This herbal blend is made with crushed mint, some of the purple tea, and rose petals
Right away the liquor is a much darker amber. When examining the wet leaf, it’s just sort of herbal mush when wet. The rose petals were totally blanched of their colour.
When tasting this, mint is the dominant flavour. I can see how the light purple tea would be good for herbal blends. It’s a nice, light flavour connector.
When I added lemon, it turned much darker and more vibrant, almost like an intense orange pekoe, but a bit more pinkish. Coral? Could we call it coral?
You can pick up some Purple Mint Tea from JusTea for yourself.
Overall I was really pleasantly surprised with this tea—I thought it might just be a gimmick, but it really stands on its own. I could easily see this becoming someone’s favourite go-to daily tea.