Purple tea is the latest innovation hitting the tea industry.  This colorful variety of the tea plant, camellia sinensis, is starting to crop up in the US after a few decades of development overseas in its native habitats.  Marketed as a healthy option up there with green tea, could purple tea be the next big trend in the beverage industry?  Whether it becomes a big deal or just a cool fad, let’s learn the basics about this pigmented variety.

purple tea bush kenya

A purple tea bush grows in Kenya | Tea Research Institute

Kenya Leads the Way

Purple tea is a tea plant that has anthocyanins in its leaves.  Anthocyacins are an antioxidant that fight free radicals and give the camellia sinensis plant a purple tint.  (They’re the same thing that give blueberries and acai berries their blueish purple color.)

Purple tea can be found growing in China, Japan, Sri Lanka, India, and Kenya.  Bushes take 3 to 6 years to mature, and only a few hundred farmers in the world grow it.

To date, Kenya is the leader in purple tea development and exportation.  As the third biggest tea exporter in the world and the largest exporter of black tea globally, Kenya has invested in purple tea to diversify its economy. 25 years ago, the government created the Tea Research Institute to develop and commercialize purple tea. After years of R&D, the Tea Research Institute developed a hybrid purple tea that is high-yielding, drought-resistant, frost-resistant, pest-resistant, and big-leafed for easy plucking.  Since Kenya is currently experiencing a drought, this drought-resistant hybrid is especially exciting.  By 2011, purple tea from Kenya was ready for export, adding revenue to an industry that generates 25% of the nation’s export earnings and employs 4 million people.

While Kenya has been investing in purple tea for over two decades, recently-discovered purple tea bushes in India have thrust India into the purple tea game.  India’s tea infrastructure is more diversified than Kenya’s, so we may see competition between the two countries for this specialty market in the future.

For more on Kenya’s purple tea industry, check out this news report:

Health Benefits Drive Purple Tea Marketing

Purple tea sellers are touting the variety’s health benefits to consumers, namely purple tea’s high levels of antioxidants and its cancer-fighting properties.

Two studies have people excited:

In the first study from 2012, scientists found that the properties in purple tea were able to inhibit the proliferation of colon cancer cells by blocking cell cycle progression and inducing cell death.  The researchers said that their results “showed that [purple tea extract] is a potential novel dietary agent for colorectal cancer chemoprevention.”

Translation: purple tea extract can kill colon cancer cells!  In a lab at least. Further studies are needed in humans.

In the second study, results in mice found that anthocyanins can cross the blood brain barrier that often prevents compounds from entering the brain, meaning that mice brains enjoyed an antioxidant boost.  The researchers behind the 2014 study were excited at the potential their results could mean for humans, including protection from neurodegenerative conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Translation: Purple tea can treat mice brains to neuroprotective antioxidants.  Next up: trials to see if the same is the case with people.

Find It In Trendy Stores and Online 

You may find purple tea at high-end specialty tea stores, often in a blend to encourage experimentation, or you can purchase a batch online from Kenyan Purple Tea, which offers loose leaf purple tea, bottled purple tea blends, and purple tea extract capsules.

Bottom Line: Keep your eyes peeled for purple tea.  It may be the next big thing!