Purple Possibilities

Kenya is promoting a purple leaf hybrid that recently caught the attention of a prominent tea researcher in India who suggests that purple tea, which brings a higher price at auction, may thrive in Assam. On his return from the International Conference on Tea Science and Development at Karatina University, Dr. Pradip Baruah, principal scientist at Tocklai Tea Research Institute, reported that “purple tea is gaining in popularity in niche markets of the world. “There is great potential for making purple tea in Assam,” he wrote. Rich in anthocyanins and with a lower concentration of catechins and caffeine, purple tea’s high antioxidant effects “provide anticancer benefits, and improves vision, cholesterol and blood sugar metabolism. Purple tea is found to have lots of medicinal properties,” according to Baruah. “Aanthocyanin rich purple tea plants are also found in Assam and wild purple teas were recently discovered in the Karbi Anglong district of Assam and the Longai area of Cachar in the Barak Valley,” said Baruah. Specimens at Tocklai are known as ‘ox blood’ tea, he said. The tea brews a purple-tinted liquor. India Tea PickerThe Brahmaputra Valley that runs the length of Assam nourishes the greatest concentration of tea in the world. The region produced an estimated 581 million kilos in 2013-14. Yet Assam’s yield per hectare is significantly lower than similar cultivars grown in Kenya. Kenya produces about 8% of the world’s tea on 4% of the world’s tea land. Baruah described Kenya’s “very high productivity of 2,193 kg made tea per hectare in 2008 compared to 1,693 kg made tea per hectare of India. In export, Kenya is the world’s top black tea exporter shipping 430.21 million kg in 2012 accounting for 25% of global tea exports, far more than India’s export of 201.08 million kg in that year. Yields for commercial production of purple tea are not available. Domestic demand for tea has limited the amount of tea available for exports, making high-yield cultivars more desirable. Through October India’s tea production declined from 947.73 million kg to 934.47 million kg. Exports fell 15% by value during the first six months of 2014 with volume declining to 87 million kg, according to the India Tea board. Tea production from north Indian states -- Assam, West Bengal and others – experienced the most significant declines to 779.49 million kg compared to 797.48 million kg through October 2013, according to a report in the Business Standard. Tea produced in South India offset the decline somewhat, increasing 4.7 million kilos during the period. In his report Baruah noted that Assam varietals were introduced to Kenya in 1903. Commercial plantations date to 1924. Purple tea, a cultivar grown in China, India and Sri Lanka was refined over a 25-year period by the Tea Research Foundation of Kenya and released as TRFK 306 in 2011 for commercial cultivation with an eye toward export. “This important clone for Kenyan tea was originally from Assam and is an Assam variety,” explained Baruah, who added that researchers at Tocklai, concerned about drought resistance and high yield, as well as export-friendly cultivars, are studying the potential benefits of commercial plantings. Sources: Tea Board of India, The Business Standard, Economic Times of India