Kenya is the world’s third-largest tea producer. Tea accounts for more than 25% of the nation’s export earnings, and directly or indirectly employs 4 million Kenyans. The country’s tea industry is dominated by small farmers (more than 560,000 farmers grow tea).

Nearly all of the tea produced is a brisk black variety that is mostly used in English breakfast and Earl Grey blends. But Kenya’s state-run Tea Research Institute is engaged in research that may change that.

The organization has spent 25 years developing a new purple tea variety, officially named “TRFK 306.” It was released for commercial production about four years ago. It is high-yielding, resistant to drought and certain pests, and has large leaves, which makes hand harvesting easier. It also holds the promise of use as a medicinal product; some research suggests that the anthocyanins it contains may help protect against certain diseases.

Jeff Koehler (@koehlercooks) reports for NPR The Salt:


“Anthocyanins have capacity to scavenge for free radicals and thus are good antioxidants,” says Stephen Karori Mbuthia, a biochemist at Egerton University, Kenya’s premier agricultural public university, and lead author of a recent study.


A challenge? The purple teas require a different processing method, and there are few places for farmers to take their harvest.