Today I drank an interesting kind of red tea called purple red tea. Standard red tea is made from tea leaves that are picked, fully oxidized, shaped, dried, then packaged. Purple red tea is processed in the same way, but the source material is composed of purple tea leaves rather than regular tea leaves.
The natural question that is asked is “what makes the tea leaves purple?”. The answer to this question is an interesting defense mechanism of the tea plant. In some areas with high elevation and/or hot climates, tea bushes can have high levels of UV exposure from the sun. Over time, some of these plants started producing anthocyanins, a pigment that can help protect the tea leaves from UV exposure. This pigment causes the normally green tea leaves to turn a reddish purple color. The photo below will show some purple tea leaves growing on tea bushes.
In China, what we call black tea is called hong cha (红茶), which literally translated means ‘red tea’. There is another tea in China called hei cha (黑茶), which literally translated means ‘black tea’. In English hei cha is known as fermented tea, because we already call what is truly red tea ‘black tea’. It makes sense that there is this error in naming, because Chinese must have been a very hard language for people to translate back when tea traders first started buying tea.
I mentioned this because the kind of tea I drank is really a ‘red tea’, fully oxidized but not fermented after production. Therefore, for the blog post I call it ‘Purple Red Tea of Yunnan’, despite being listed as a ‘black tea’ by the vendor I purchased it from.
Before brewing the tea, the dry tea leaves had a strong and interesting aroma. These leaves smelled slightly sweet like sugar, with a little bit of a fruity note like grapes. However, the smell wasn’t only sweet. It also had a smokey component that made the aroma more complex. These dry leaves were dark black and brown in color, with some leaves having a red / purple hue.
The last thing I’d like to mention about this tea is the body feelings that I experienced while drinking it. It felt like a very energizing tea, and I did not need to drink much to feel awake and peppy. Despite the complex flavors and intense aftertaste, the tea still felt complex, smooth, and was overall enjoyable.
If a person liked to add things like milk or sugar to their red tea, I may not recommend this tea for them. This is because I feel like the unique qualities of this tea might come across as funky when paired with milk or sugar. However this would be a good tea for a person who enjoys raw Pu’er tea, and/or may not mind some slightly bitter astringent complexities in their tea.
With all of this in mind, the Purple Red Tea of Yunnan was interesting to try due to the unique qualities of purple tea. Below is an image of the tea leaves after being fully brewed. This offers another glimpse of the brown, red, & purple hues of the leaf caused by the anthocyanins.