Introducing Purple Tea

by Amylee Amos MS, RDN

A few weeks ago I shared a blog post about the World Tea Expo and the different types of tea and their benefits. I spoke with the leaders in the tea industry and learned about the newest trends and concepts in tea. You may think that, well, tea is tea- what can be new? But something else I wanted to share from my experience at the expo is a lesser known type of tea emerging on the market that you should know about: purple tea!

What is Purple Tea?

Purple tea is a new variety of the common tea leaf (Camelia sinensis). It is unsurprisingly a beautiful purple color. A natural plant crossbreed, it is grown at high elevations in Kenya. In fact, a 6th generation Kenyan tea grower showed me on his iPhone some photos the glowing purple fields surrounded by lush Kenyan countryside where the purple tea leaves grow.

All tea (black, green, purple, white, oolong, pu-erh) is made from Camelia sinensis. What makes them different is the fermentation or oxidation process that they undergo (1). Other differences in flavor come from the soil that they are grown in, the humidity and other weather conditions, and the purity of the tea. Purple tea is unoxidized or non-fermented, like green tea, so it lacks the heavy tannic quality of black tea. This makes it easy to drink and palatable, even for the tea novice.

Health Benefits of Purple Tea:

If you’re a client of the Amos Institute, or even if you’ve followed the blog for long enough, you know that I’m always talking about getting in as many colors of fruits and vegetables as possible. That’s because the health benefits, specifically the phytonutrients, are found in the pigments of different colored fruits and vegetables. The same is true for tea! Purple plants produce a particularly potent class of phytonutrients: anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are found in other purple/blue foods like blueberries, blackberries, and purple cabbage. Anthocyanins have been well studied for their tremendous health benefits. Studies demonstrate that they are involved in cellular mechanisms that give them anticancer benefits, antioxidant capabilities, neuroprotective capabilities, cardiovascular benefits, anti-diabetes and anti-obesity   benefits, and more (2). So basically, anthocyanins help protect us from all chronic disease. They do this by upregulating cellular systems that keep us well and that keep our cells physiologically younger.

Because of its high anthocyanin content, purple tea has higher levels of antioxidants than other types of tea, including green tea (3). In addition, some of these antioxidants or phytonutrients, called polyphenols, that are found in purple tea are more biologically available than they are in some other foods. This is because of their chemical structure and water solubility (4). A small squeeze of lemon not only boosts the antioxidant capacity, but also enhances the natural purple color!

Purple tea also has a lower caffeine level than other types of tea, a bonus for individuals who are carriers of the slow metabolizing version of the CYP1A2 enzyme. These people have a single nucleotide polymorphism of the gene, which means that they are genetically more inclined to have trouble metabolizing larger amounts of caffeine.

What’s the Take Away?

The takeaway is, try purple tea! It has incredible health benefits and tastes delicious. The high levels of anthocyanins make purple tea a powerhouse drink. Including it in your daily routine means you are promoting cellular pathways that promote healthspan and longevity, including the health of your brain. That being said, it’s still great to drink black, green, white, and herbal teas. Just throw purple tea into your routine too. Just make sure that you’re buying organic, fair trade, and rainforest alliance certified.

References:

  1. Khan, N., & Mukhtar, H. (2013). Tea and Health: Studies in Humans. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 19(34), 6141–6147.
  2. Li, D., Wang, P., Luo, Y., Zhao, M., & Chang, F. (2017). Health benefits of anthocyanins and molecular mechanisms: Update from recent decade. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 57(8): 1729-1741.
  3. Keiro, L.C., Wachira, F.N., Wanyoko, J.K., & Rotich, M.K. (2013). Total polyphenols, catechin profiles, and antioxidant activity of tea products from purple leaf coloured tea cultivars. Food Chemistry, 136: 1405-1413.
  4. Keiro, L.C., Wachira, F.N., Wanyoko, J.K., & Rotich, M.K. (2012). Characterization of anthocyanins in Kenyan teas: Extraction and identification. Food Chemistry, 131: 31-38.