Green tea, black tea, rooibos, assam. Another base flavour has reached our midst. However, this time it’s more than just a little different in colour.
A new tea emerges, a host of reviews claiming ‘it’s delicious’; ‘I can’t get enough’; ‘my favourite new beverage’ inevitably follow. But not this time. Purple tea actually holds a rather peculiar taste. Developed in Kenya over 25 years, what the tea store descriptions generally omit is the admission that this cross-bred cultivar isn’t quite so tasty. (This purple tea plant, like any tea plant, can be processed to green, black or oolong tea etc).
This being said, taste is a very subjective thing, and I believe many might agree that during younger years a sip on a green tea may have brought to mind a similar feeling to that of chewing on a field of grass. Nevertheless, many of us love it now – the tea, that is.
Like blue cheese, olives, dessert wine, it’s an acquired taste. Sometimes I believe we forget the true meaning of ‘acquired’ in that phrase; it’s not one that is specific to some people, but generated over time after repeated attempts, eventually enriching the taste to something of delight.
Purple tea, when mastered both in consuming and production, can be a wonderful thing. An earthy, plum-like aroma fits with its namesake. It is full of the antioxidant anthocyanin, which is where it gets its unusual colour.
This is the same element that paints blueberries, aubergines, red cabbage and grapes a deep, dark purple. Anthocyanins help to reduce cell inflammation and are a natural antioxidant, and some studies give evidence to them having a link to reduced risk of cancer.
‘Antioxidants’ and ‘reduced cancer risk’ however, may be tea properties that you are simply tired of hearing. Is there any brew that doesn’t claim this vague health benefit? In this case, Purple Tea is fast becoming a name on the health scene as its level of these anthocyanins are up to three times higher than in normal black or green tea leaves. It also contains a lot less caffeine, which is great news for those who are trying to cut down, or react badly to it.
The cultivation of purple tea is also good news for Kenya as a producer as their harvested variety of black tea is often a lot cheaper than produce from other countries, so this unique crop allows them to generate more income and create more power for small-scale tea farmers in a competitive global tea market.
But one wonders why it is only suddenly popular? Developed and refined over a 25 year period, it was officially declared safe for cultivation in 2011 by the Tea Research Foundation of Kenya. That’s only five years for it to travel across continents as a recognisable name in the tea world. Perhaps it’s trending because of its recent cultivation and the current fashion for super health benefits. More than ever, there’s a demand for products that benefit the body in a medicinal way as well as simply for pleasure.
Although its flavour may not immediately be to everyone’s palette, it’s worth giving it a try to really get that acquired taste. Even if not for the health benefits and fashion statement, it is wonderful to know that its purchase contributes to the livelihood of less commercial Kenyan tea growers and farmers. In this way the tea helps out workers on the other side of the world, as well as helping out the body through its natural antioxidant elements. A win-win.
Perhaps this isn’t just a flash-in-the-pan culinary craze; we should say hello to the new chia seed, or quinoa, of the health tea world.