Zi Juan, which translates as “Purple Beauty” (or “Beautiful Purple”) is quite a visually stunning tea. The uniquely purple colored tea plants used to produce this finished tea are all plantation grown in Xishuangbanna’s Menghai County, and this batch comes from the Fall harvest season of 2010.
The Zi Juan/Purple Beauty tea plants were developed/bred into a commercially viable cultivar at the Yunnan Tea Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science beginning in the mid 1980’s. A tea tree that had naturally mutated and was producing more anthocyanin than normal was discovered in the Yunnan tea Research Institute’s massive plantation. This increased anthocyanin production in the plant caused a purple color to occur in its leaves and stems. Cuttings were taken from this special tree and grafted onto existing rootstock to create exact clones of this unique purple tea plant. Then, over a period of time, these new purple plants were cross bred with other tea cultivars to encourage positive and discourage negative traits, and a new cultivar was created. This tea is considered to be a Yunnan Large Leaf, small tree/shrub sub-varietal that grows well on Yunnan’s commercial tea plantations. Please note that Zi Juan tea is distinct from the “Purple Bud” Pu-Erh teas available in today’s marketplace. Purple Bud Pu-Erh teas should be produced from old growth large leaf tea trees that seasonally produce these higher levels of anthocyanin in the buds as a defense mechanism against environmental hardships such as increased UV light exposure in the summer season, etc. The leaves of the purple bud Pu-Erh trees are generally a darker olive green, while Zi Juan leaves are generally a distinctive purplish emerald green.
Zi Juan is usually either processed as a roasted green tea or is processed like Pu-Erh tea. This batch of Zi Juan was processed basically in the same way as Pu-Erh tea and dried in the sun. For detailed information on green & Pu-Erh tea processing, see our Chinese Tea Info pages.
Because it was processed like Pu-Erh, this tea shares a lot of common flavor traits with a young Sheng Pu-Erh tea. I really wish I could have gotten the photos to show the color of the liquor more accurately, but the infused liquor is a unique shade of purple-twinged brown. This Zi Juan is a plantation grown tea from relatively young plants, so the infused liquor is not as thick and full flavored as the liquor of a tea produced from the leaves of wild growing, old trees. Like young Pu-Erh, the flavor is a balance between bitterness and astringency, and, because of the higher than usual anthocyanin and catechin levels in these purple leaves, the bitterness tends to be more apparent than with other plantation grown Pu-Erh teas. This increased bitterness is not at all unpleasant; rather, to me, it makes Zi Juan that much more interesting to drink. Basically, the sensory experience this tea provides is difficult to describe, but it is interesting and educational to drink and exceptionally beautiful to look at. I hope our tea drinking friends get as much a kick out of it as I have been. Enjoy!