Assam can emerge as the only place in the world after Kenya to become a producer of health-rich purple tea, a senior scientist and tea expert in the Tocklai Tea Research Institute has said. Currently, Kenya is the only country that produces unique purple tea which fetches three to four times the price of black tea and has established itself in both the domestic and the export market.
Tocklai Tea Research Institute (TTRI)’s senior advisory officer (principal scientist) Pradip Barua said “Assam has tremendous potential to produce purple tea, as it is the tea of the future as far as health benefits are concerned. Besides, such tea bushes are still found in the state”.
The clone TRFK 306/1 for purple tea of Kenya was originally from Assam and wild bushes of the tea have been found in the hilly forested areas of Karbi Anglong district and Longai area of Cachar district in Barak Valley while there was also possibility of its presence in some areas of Upper Assam, he said. “The germplasm collection at Tocklai has purple tea plants, commonly known as ‘ox blood’,” Baruah said.
Purple tea has been found to have a host of medicinal properties and is rich in anthocyanins and contains lower catechins and caffeine, is high in antioxidants that provide anti-cancer benefits and improve vision, lower cholesterol and blood sugar metabolism.
“Assam is very rich in tea germplasm as it is the place of original tea variety and wild tea plants are still available in the state’,” the author of the book ‘The Tea Industry of Assam: Origin and Development’. The planting material for manufacturing purple tea was selected from the germplasm stock of Tea Research Foundation of Kenya and was released as TRFK 306 in 2011 to the planters for commercial cultivation, he said. Kenya has adopted a strategic approach to diversify and add value to the tea products for the domestic and international markets, Barua pointed out.
In this connection, the Tea Research Institute has pre-released a purple tea variety, TRFK 306/1 for commercial use targeting a unique tea product-anthocyanin-rich tea and this clone has been under development for the last 25 years. The clone was developed with the aim to diversify into new tea products diversification and value addition in order to enhance productivity of tea as well as boost economic growth in the agricultural sector, Barua, who recently delivered the keynote address at the International Tea Conference at Karatina University in Kenya, said.
Besides the purple tea clone, of the 51 clones released by Tea Research Foundation of Kenya till date and used by the tea industry of that country, 41 are of Assam variety and six of Assam-China hybrids while only two were of Cambod and one of China variety, he pointed out. Kenya is the third largest producer of tea after China and India and the leading exporter in the world while the Mombasa auction centre in Kenya is the largest tea auction centre in the world at present.
Baruah pointed out that tea was first introduced in Kenya around 1903 and early introduction was of Assam variety in the form of seeds with the first set of improved tea clones of Assam variety characterised by general vigour, high density of plucking points and large shoot size released in 1964.
He said having originated from Assam under the British colonial rulers and developed by the British planters and scientists working in India migrating to Kenya, most of the practices of tea cultivation and production and common words used in tea plantations were of Indian and Assam origin.
“Almost the entire terminology used in tea production and manufacturing are similar to those of Assam as are some of the commonly used words,” he said.