How Karatina University is using purple tea for health benefits

Karatina University Purple tea

Dinah Ochami displays purple tea beverage at Karatina University on October 19, 2022.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi I Nation Media Group

Banking on the benefits of purple tea against the backdrop of a lifestyle disease burden in Nyeri, Karatina University is offering respite to people suffering from non-communicable diseases by offering foods made from the specialty tea.

As they push purple tea consumption, the tea institute at the university is touting the health benefits of purple tea as a reason for people to embrace as they prepare to launch the products countrywide.

Purple tea contains an anthocyanin chemical that has many medicinal properties and is believed to be particularly beneficial against cardiovascular diseases.

The antioxidants found in purple tea are also known to provide anti-cancer benefits, improve vision and help in lowering cholesterol and blood sugar metabolism.

Rich in antioxidants

The value-added products are meant to help people with diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer and obesity to manage their illnesses alongside medical treatment, said Prof Mary Muchiri, the director of the institute.

“Purple tea is rich in antioxidants that take over radicals that prevent cancer, enhance beauty, manage cholesterol and cleanse the blood,” she offered.

They use tea extracts to fortify other food items and make probiotic yogurts, cakes, spice lemonade and a sports drink that is now being researched.

Dinah Ochami displays purple tea yogurt at Karatina University on October 19, 2022

They also process and package purple tea for sale in packets of 50gm and 100gm.

These products will be available in shops.

“We are still researching more on the sports drink [which uses] sea salt to boost energy … We have already done a consumer acceptability study with the students here,” Prof Muchiri said.

Once the food items are processed alongside the purple tea, the benefits of purple tea are not lost in the process, she added.

The purple tea products can be taken hot or cold and are touted as good appetisers for indigestion, weight loss and boosting memory.

After the purple tea is picked from the university’s farm – usually two leaves and a bud per the East Africa Tea Standard – they are taken to the laboratory for processing. 

They start by withering the leaves for about 12 hours, depending on the preference, and then roll and dry them before packaging. The processing of purple tea is different from that of black tea, whose processing is called “cut, tear and curl”, hence the name Black CTC.

“This can be done by the farmers as it is economical and affordable. It also uses low technology and space, making it ideal for small-scale farmers who intend to process their teas,” said Prof Muchiri.

Purple tea

Dr Mary Muchiri, director tea institute at Karatina University, explains how a rotating drum roaster works on October 19, 2022.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi I Nation Media Group

Processing can be done through the panning or roasting method, which ensures the purple tea retains its rich colour, or by steaming, which makes the tea liquor light.

Alternatively, processors can use the traditional hand-rolling method.

“Here at the university we use panning because it is the method we were trained on by the Chinese and the equipment is affordable,” she said.

Caffeine levels in purple tea are lower than those in the Black CTC teas and thus have lower risks of addiction, Prof Muchiri said.

“This research was sponsored by the Kenya Research Fund in 2017 and we are now moving to another project of making Kombucha,” she said.

With the purple tea, they can also produce white, black, green, yellow and black tea.

The university has about 20 acres of tea bushes and they sell their produce to the Kenya Tea Development Agency-affiliated factory in Ragati, Mathira constituency.

Small-scale tea farmers can manage to add value to their teas in groups and can increase their bargaining power when purchasing the required equipment.