New to purple tea? Well we’re here to explore the unique antioxidant makeup of this lovely C. sinensis cultivar developed by the Tea Research Foundation of Kenya (TRFK). What is a cultivar? It refers to the cultivated variety of the tea plant (C.sinensis), so it was through selective breeding that brought about the lovely purple color and exquisite flavor. Happily this process came with an additional perk: specific antioxidant types and amounts.
I’m here to give you an indepth look at the wonders of purple tea antioxidants and what they do by discussing:
- What antioxidants are in purple tea? What are they called and what do they do?
- What are the health benefits of purple tea? We investigate its rare antioxidants
- What impacts does purple tea have on pregnancy?
This blog is about the health benefits of the antioxidants found in purple tea, but for a primer on the cultivation and history of purple tea check out our Purple Tea Spotlight blog. There are purple tea cultivars from China, which you can read about in this blog, but much of the evidence and literature we go into here is based on this newer Kenyan cultivar (the one we sell at MatchaAlternatives.com).
A quick reminder of antioxidants, why do we care? In the body there are free-radicals, which are unstable molecules that can damage cells and tissue in large quantities. They are produced by the body but also you consume them through foods, pollution, smoking etc. Antioxidants neutralize these free radicals helping to prevent the damage they cause (even to DNA which is scary!). For more information on this check out part two of this series: All About Antioxidants or start the series from the beginning with What are Antioxidants and How Do They Work?
So without further ado, let’s dive in!
Antioxidants of Purple Tea: Who are they and what do they do?
Purple Tea, being processed in a similar way to green tea, contains many of the same antioxidants of green tea. This includes antioxidants like ECGC, ECG, and Theanine. Levels may differ slightly, but for the most part they are comparable. Some studies even use different green tea varieties as reference standards (PolyP).
If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of these famous antioxidants found in green and purple tea, check them out in our blog post here. For the purpose of this article, I’ll focus on the antioxidants that make purple tea unique.
Polyphenols in Purple Tea
Let’s begin with Polyphenols - it’s a type of antioxidant and there’s a ton of them. Polyphenols are named for their substructure, so in fact any antioxidant can be a polyphenol if the structure matches (Antiox). For ease of explanation, ‘polyphenol’ is a blanket-term that covers many antioxidant species, but what we want to know is that they can be divided into non-flavonoids and flavonoids.
The polyphenols found in teas are all flavonoids, but it’s not just tea, there are over 6,000 types of flavonoid! They can be found in all kinds of fruits, vegetables and other plants and are one of the antioxidants known for giving our food its vibrant color. Here, we will focus on the one found in purple tea: anthocyanin.
Red and Purple Anthocyanins: Purple Antioxidants
Anthocyanins are complicated little compounds commonly responsible for the pigmentation in foods and purple tea. You might recognize them in the blues and purples and reds of your favorite berries… and in your lovely mug of purple tea of course. Sources of anthocyanins include blue, red, and purple foodstuffs like black currants, blueberries, and grapes (AncyF) and your tea...!
In this below chart you can see the actual molecules that make up these common anthocyanin food colors, I think this is so cool and hope you do too!
GHG in Purple Tea
Our next antioxidant, GHG is unique to purple tea. It is also found in approximately the same amounts in purple tea as EGCG-, which itself is an antioxidant only found in Camellia sinensis, i.e. the tea plant! For more on EGCG- check out part seven of this series: Most Common Antioxidants in Green Tea.
Its full name is 1,2-di-galloyl-4,6- hexahydroxydiphenoyl-D-glucose, so we’re going to stick to calling it GHG.It is a hydrolysable tannin, which is a complex way of saying it is part of a class of tannin that breaks down easily in water. Due to it only being present in purple tea (not green, black, or oolong), and because purple tea is still quite new, there is little published research on GHG. What we do know so far is that it has anti-obesity and anti-aging effects, which I’ll go more in depth into in the next section (GHG).
Purple Tea Health Benefits
Based on what we’ve now all learned on the many benefits of these antioxidants here are some of the ways these come into play in purple tea!
Antioxidant Action of Purple Tea
To start, purple tea has the highest free-radical scavenging rate compared to green and black tea: Purple tea ranks at 52% compared to 34% of green tea and 28% in black tea. It also contains 135 times higher levels of anthocyanins than regular black tea (antiC).
I made the above image to help illustrate how black tea, green tea and purple tea compare in antioxidant action. You can see purple tea's antioxidants scavenge nearly twice that of black tea! © MatchaAlternatives.com
It is difficult to isolate antioxidants to tease out their benefits and then apply them wholesale to real effects in the body, their benefits are based on a diverse number of biological processes This is why at MatchaAlternatives.com we never make big health claims but simply share and distill the scientific literature to assist in deciding for yourself.
Health Benefits of Anthocyanins & GHG
Despite this complexity, research from the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology has outlined some specific benefits of anthocyanins (AncyB):
- They’re synergistic: They interact with other phytochemicals to enhance common biological processes in the body*. In essence, they are team players. (Phyto- just means they are made by plants)
- They scavenge free radicals and so act as antioxidants (Scroll back up to Polyphenols in Purple Tea to be reminded why this is a good thing)
- They come with a slew of other benefits that go beyond their antioxidant capacity.
- Immune system regulation
- Anti-inflammatory effects
- Strengthens membranes
- Decreases permeability and fragility of capillaries
- Inhibit tumor formation
- Improve eyesight
In this study on rats, those with high susceptibility to oxidative damage were fed anthocyanin-rich extracts (AncyB). The result was a great decrease in lipid peroxidation and DNA damage. Let me try to explain these complex words: lipid peroxidation is an oxidation reaction. So here free radicals are causing damage (oxidising) fat cells (lipids)...but wonderfully, these anthocyanin antioxidants act to counter it.
In addition it also could reduce risk for heart attack and hypertension, lowers blood sugar metabolism and cholesterol, reduces constipation, and supports female reproductive health (PAnth & GHG). And in a study on the anticancer effects of purple tea, three cancer cell lines were tested with purple tea compared to Doxorubicin- a standard cancer drug. Purple tea significantly inhibited cancer cell growth in all three cell lines (antiC).
Anti-aging effects of purple tea were found by using a whole plant extract (so they could study the synergistic effects) on skin cells. Like with the rat study a lipid peroxidation inhibition was seen - antioxidants are helping out.
A study by the International Journal of Biomedical Science found how purple tea impacts anti-obesity and weight loss. The study found that purple tea blocks dietary fat absorption via the combination of caffeine and the catechins GHG and ECGC. It also increases hepatic lipid metabolism, this means it helps your liver process fats (AntiObs). One such lipid is alcohol and, as you might know, can lead to liver damage in cases of over consumption. Purple tea assists the liver in breaking down and processing these and other lipids to prevent liver damage.
Thanks to the anthocyanins, adding a squeeze of lemon juice turns brewed purple tea pink. Ahh fun with antioxidants...
Anthocyanins and the Blood Brain Barrier
Anthocyanins are a cerebral antioxidant, so purple tea is able to catalyze the brain to produce its own antioxidants, promoting cerebral health. These are endogenous antioxidants, which means, the body produces them itself. Pretty cool right? Basically they can cross what is known as the blood-brain barrier, a defense that protects the brain but often inhibits plant-medicinal benefits.
Because anthocyanins do cross this barrier the neuroprotective properties of the antioxidant are able to take effect. In a study by the Journal of Nutritional Neuroscience on anthocyanins extracted from purple tea, neuroprotective action was observed. Evidence suggests they cross the blood-brain barrier and were responsible for an increase in the brain’s endogenous antioxidants- those produced by our own bodies (PAnth). Go Team Purple!
Purple Tea and Pregnancy
Looking at the stats, many people are Googling about purple tea and pregnancy. Due to understandable (!) ethical reasons, formal studies of herbs or teas in pregnant populations are rare. When judging safety of herbal products on pregnancy it is often necessary to base results off of observation of human populations having taken the herb over time (a historical context).
Speaking in general, certain herbs are classified according to observation (epidemiological data) and can be noted as “having no evidence of adverse effects despite being consumed by a large number of pregnant women over time” or “this herb is not recommended as it causes pregnancy complications”. Otherwise, the most reliable formal data we can turn to are animal studies (PAnth) hence why we reference a rat study in this blog.
This is where things get tricky with purple tea - which lacks both historical context AND extensive animal and human trials for safety in pregnancy. We did try to answer this question you are all looking for, but given that purple tea is a newer cultivar and is not commonly used as a medicinal herb (in the same way that other plants with generations of use have been, such as chamomile or even the older cultivars of green tea), formal research on safety in pregnant women is lacking.
A cup of our purple tea brewed, with its signature pinkish hue
Polyphenols and Pregnancy
However, we can still help: we can discuss isolated components and their role in pregnancy. Purple tea contains a high amount of polyphenols, as do many types of tea (PolyP). And so what we do know, is that pregnant women are advised to avoid large amounts of polyphenols during the 3rd trimester because research indicates that high amounts are known to cause fetal complications (Zielinsky). We have even mentioned this in previous blogs too.
In addition, because it contains catechins like green tea, it can inhibit folic acid absorption- a big no for early pregnancy. Consult your qualified healthcare professional before consuming, as they can work out the safest amounts and times for you to consume it (Preg & Zielinsky).
For more information on herbal tea and pregnancy check out our piece Rooibos, Honeybush, Pregnancy & Estrogen
A Note From The Herbalist...
What fun! Purple tea is truly growing in popularity, and in fact it is one of MatchaAlternatives.com best sellers. With such rare antioxidants in the tea world, GHG and anthocyanins, it is truly an incredible tea!
While I went into the fact it has not been drunk widely for a long time, given the interesting studies into these antioxidants I wouldn’t be surprised if it starts making it into herbal medicine soon! For such a new cultivar it’s already wowing us.
For now though, why not enjoy a cup! I find it's a great way to start my morning, especially now that I know all its benefits. If you're going to partake you should try adding a little bit of lemon, not only does it add a great flavor, it also will change the tea’s color!
So go forth! Follow our Brewing Guide and relax with a nice hot cup of our ‘The Purist’ Rare Purple Tea!
Questions? Thoughts? Let me know in the comments below or on our IG @MatchaAlternatives
Now, time to try some purple tea!
Now you've learned about purple tea, give ours a try!
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All of the information regarding the herbs, botanicals, minerals, vitamins, etc., is information drawn from traditional use data or academic research and should be regarded as such. If you, the reader, has a health or medical concern, please consult your healthcare professional. The information found here is not meant to diagnose, treat, prescribe or cure and has not been evaluated by the FDA. This information is for educational purposes only.
Purple Powerhouse: References & Further Reading
Kilel, E. C., Faraj, A. K., Wanyoko, J. K., Wachira, F. N., & Mwingirwa, V. (2013). Green tea from purple leaf coloured tea clones in Kenya- their quality characteristics. Food Chemistry, 141(2), 769–775. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2013.03.051 Retrieved from:
Khoo, H. E., Azlan, A., Tang, S. T., & Lim, S. M. (2017). Anthocyanidins and anthocyanins: colored pigments as food, pharmaceutical ingredients, and the potential health benefits. Food & nutrition research, 61(1), 1361779. https://doi.org/10.1080/16546628.2017.1361779 Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5613902/
State of the Art of Anthocyanins: Antioxidant Activity, Sources, Bioavailability, and Therapeutic Effect in Human Health, Tena et al, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3921/9/5/451
Choubey, M., Paul, B., Ray, A., Mohanto, K., Mazumdar, A., Chhetri, P., Bera, B. and Kujar, R., 2020. Purple Tea: Prospects of Darjeeling Tea Plantation. International Journal of Agriculture Innovations and Research, [online] 9(3), pp.169-174. Available at:
Khan, F., Bashir, A., & Mughairbi, F. A. (2018). Purple Tea Composition and Inhibitory Effect of Anthocyanin-Rich Extract on Cancer Cell Proliferation. Medicinal & Aromatic Plants, 07(06). https://doi.org/10.4172/2167-0412.1000322 Retrieved from: https://www.longdom.org/open-access/purple-tea-composition-and-inhibitory-effect-of-anthocyaninrich-extracton-cancer-cell-proliferation-2167-0412-1000322.pdf
Lila M. A. (2004). Anthocyanins and Human Health: An In Vitro Investigative Approach. Journal of biomedicine & biotechnology, 2004(5), 306–313. https://doi.org/10.1155/S111072430440401X Retrieved from
Rashid, K., Wachira, F. N., Nyabuga, J. N., Wanyonyi, B., Murilla, G., & Isaac, A. O. (2013). Kenyan purple tea anthocyanins ability to cross the blood brain barrier and reinforce brain antioxidant capacity in mice. Nutritional Neuroscience, 17(4), 178–185. https://doi.org/10.1179/1476830513y.0000000081 Retrieved from:
Shimoda, H., Hitoe, S., Nakamura, S., & Matsuda, H. (2015). Purple Tea and Its Extract Suppress Diet-induced Fat Accumulation in Mice and Human Subjects by Inhibiting Fat Absorption and Enhancing Hepatic Carnitine Palmitoyltransferase Expression. International journal of biomedical science : IJBS, 11(2), 67–75. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4502735/
Zielinsky, P., & Busato, S. (2013). Prenatal effects of maternal consumption of polyphenol-rich foods in late pregnancy upon fetal ductus arteriosus. Birth defects research. Part C, Embryo today : reviews, 99(4), 256–274. https://doi.org/10.1002/bdrc.21051 Retrieved full text from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4065350/
Yazdy, M. M., Tinker, S. C., Mitchell, A. A., Demmer, L. A., & Werler, M. M. (2012). Maternal tea consumption during early pregnancy and the risk of spina bifida. Birth defects research. Part A, Clinical and molecular teratology, 94(10), 756–761. https://doi.org/10.1002/bdra.23025 Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4557736/
1637: Cartesian Reductionism
Additional sources (referenced but not ultimately included, great for additional reading)
Véronique Cheynier, Polyphenols in foods are more complex than often thought, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 81, Issue 1, January 2005, Pages 223S–229S, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/81.1.223S Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/81/1/223S/4607504