In China, purple tea refers to tea cultivars that is related to the mainstream Yunnan large leaf tea subspecies var.assamica, the cultivar used for producing pu erh.
We all know about green tea and black tea, but is purple tea a new type of tea category? The answer is: no. Teas are classified based on the processing method applied. The term ‘purple tea’ refers to a tea cultivar, which can be processed in any type of tea such as green, black, oolong or pu erh.
What many don’t know is that there are two types of purple tea in terms of raw leaves: one is Zi Ya (紫芽), and the other is Zi Juan (紫娟). We’ll discuss the differences below.
Zi Ya literally means ‘purple bud’. They are naturally mutated in the wild of Yunnan. It usually growing in the areas with high altitude and strong sun exposure, such as Menghai, Yiwu and Lincang.
Generally, the bud and the first three leaves of Zi Ya are purple, the rest of the leaves are dark green. Zi Ya can be produced into raw and ripe Pu erh tea. Although the fresh leaves of Zi Ya are purple, there is no distinguishable difference in its infusion colour compared to regular tea.
The taste of Zi Ya leaves lies between wild arbor tea leaves and old cultivated garden tea leaves: smooth, full-bodied with strong sweet aftertaste. Because of its rarity, the price of wild Zi Ya is relatively high. However, due to the increasing popularity, Zi Ya is nowadays also cultivated resulting in more affordable prices.
In 1985, researchers of Yunnan Tea Research Institute found one unusual tea tree in a huge tea plantation. It had purple buds, leaves and stems. Compare to Zi Ya, its fresh leaves were smaller and thicker, the purple colour was darker and with a hint of green, more like violet.
Its infusion is purple-ish too, with a thinner and stronger flavour than Zi Ya. It’s cultivated into larger scale using vegetative propagation methods.
If you’re interested in Zi Juan cakes, you can consider Teasenz’ zi juan purple tea cake offer.
Zi Juan purple tea is also the type that has been recently hyped by Kenyan growers. The country’s production mainly consists of black tea with low margins. By marketing purple tea, farmers managed with some level of success to sell purple tea at higher margins. Some other countries such as India followed.
Zi Juan is often processed and compressed in ripe pu erh cakes, which consists of post-fermented leaves. It’s bitter flavour makes is less suitable for making loose leaf sheng pu erh (mao cha) or sheng pu erh cakes (which doesn’t undergo post-fermentation).
The most effective components of both purple tea are anthocyanins. It’s said that the amount of anthocyanins in purple tea is 50-100 times higher than green bud tea.
As one kind of polyphenols, anthocyanins are great antioxidants. They are used for preventing cardiovascular and neurological diseases, circulatory disorders, eye problems and inflammation, protecting the skin from the UV damage and improving skin elasticity.
Further academic research is required to confirm the benefits above, though preliminary results look promising.