Butterfly Pea Flower Tea is a blue tea that turns purple. That’s right, a colour changing beverage. But does it do more than just look pretty? We look at what this interesting tea actually is and investigate the health benefits of Butterfly Pea Flower Tea.
I first came across this strange phenomenon in 2017 at a street market in Sydney – there was a herbal tea stand there and so, in the interests of professionalism, I went for a looksy.
I was expecting to see the normal 50 Shades of Matcha but boy was I surprised.
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The stand was from a company called T Totaler who have a shop in Sydney’s Newtown.
For those who don’t know Sydney, Newtown is kind of like Camden in London. A bit grungy, full of people wearing black and chock full of more veggie/vegan eateries, herbal shops and other alternative whoogiwhatsits than you could shake a talking stick at.
It’s brilliant for pottering around for the afternoon.
I got talking to Amber, the stall owner, and she pointed out their Blue Water product which she then referred to as blue tea.
‘Erm, what do you mean blue?’……I asked. ‘It’s coloured blue,” she said as if this was a normal occurrence in the tea world – and then she threw in. ‘And it goes purple if you add lemon to it.’ Pop, whizz, bang – that was the sound of my mind being blown. This I needed to see.
They didn’t have what they needed there to make the magic happen but, she told me to pop along to the shop and we’d have a play. So I did.
Visiting Blue Tea Central
The shop itself is super cute. It looks like an old pharmacy with lots of intriguing drawers and chemistry set bottles everywhere.
‘I’ve come to see the blue tea,’ I announced.
Considering this sounds like something people say in spy novels so I was wondering if some secret door would open and I’d never be seen again, but instead, a packet of leaves was produced, hot water was poured upon them and behold, a cup of blue stuff appeared.
This alone was quite extraordinary – there’s not a lot of naturally blue food out there in the world.
What Is Blue Tea?
The main ingredient of blue tea is a Thai plant called butterfly pea flower (or clitoria tematea if you want its Latin name – you’ll work out why it’s called that if you google a picture of the petals).
It’s very commonly used in Southeast Asia and despite the fact that I’ve been to Thailand and Malaysia about 15 times, I’d never come across it but apparently, it’s really common over there and traditionally used as a food colouring turn desserts blue or purple.
Its also used traditionally as a medicine, where it’s claimed to enhance memory, beat stress, improve mood and calm us down.
Most of these benefits come from the fact that, like most blue/purple foods, butterfly flower pea tea is packed with antioxidants. And it seems that these trigger some potentially exciting health benefit.
For starters, a study on men found that an extract of butterfly power tea taken after meals raised antioxidant levels and helped lower levels of blood sugar produced after eating.
Lastly, it might help neutralise the bacteria that leads to tooth decay – which is handy.
None of this proves that the odd cup of the stuff is going to protect you against disease, but it’s promising.
What Does Blue Tea Taste Like?
As a tea ingredient, it doesn’t really add much tastewise, it’s pretty neutral, maybe a bit earthy but when it comes to colour its genius – add water and it turns a really deep blue.
At T-Total, they’ve mixed the tea with lemon myrtle and lemongrass which produces a very light lemony drink that they call Blue Water.
Why Does Blue Tea Change Colour?
Fact: If you change the PH of butterfly pea flower tea, magic chemistry things happen.
Add something acidic like lemon juice and the blue tea turns purple.
This happens because the colour of the flowers is actually made from a mix of two different pigments – flavylium (red) and quinoidal (blue).
According to experts at the University of Florida, ‘When the pH is lowered, usually through the addition of a mild acid like lemon or lime juice, there is more of the flavylium (red) form and the BPFE will appear pink or light purple instead. When the pH is raised, the quinoidal (blue) and chalcone (yellow) forms are both present, leading to a green color. This is commonly achieved through the addition of the spice saffron due to its alkalinity (Chu et al., 2016). ‘
Look, there’s video
I was very excited. Apparently, you can also turn Butterfly Pea Flower tea red if you add hibiscus flower.
How to Use Butterfly Flower Pea Tea
The obvious way is to use a tea blend and steep it like you would a normal herbal tea. This is likely to give you the most concentrated dose – and, is probably the healthiest way to consume it.
Don’t add milk – while I’m not aware of anyone testing this with blue tea, some research suggests that milk stops you absorbing as many antioxidants from food and drink (although it’s not conclusive)
Interestingly though, adding lemon juice to green tea will increase the antioxidants you absorb. And again, while I don’t know of similar studies with butterfly pea flower tea, this could be one time when playing with your food has extra benefits.
However, since I originally wrote this piece, butterfly pea tea has exploded into health world – and people are doing all sorts of fun things with it.
Make up the tea and freeze it and you have ice cubes – or, if you smash the cubes up, slushies.
You can dye pasta, eggs or bread with it to make blue food. I tried blue rice in Malaysia which was also dyed with the flowers.
You can buy a powdered form that you mix with milk to make blue lattes.
You can add whipped sugar on top to make blue Dalgona Coffee – but that might negate some of the health benefits if they do exist (check out our analysis of whether Dalgona Coffee is healthy here). Ditto for many of the pretty pea flower syrup-based drinks you see looking pretty on social media.
Where to Buy Butterfly Flower Tea
This varies depending on where you live – so, let’s start with Sydney as this is where our blue tea adventure started.
You’ll find the T-Totaler product in their stores in Newtown or the CBD, or you can order it online.
If you want to buy butterfly pea powder tea in the UK, you’ll find it on amazon from specialists The Blue Tea Company. Click here to check it out.
If you fancy making the lattes, try the blue tea powder from Soopergood.
In the US, one of the first companies offering blue tea in the US company were Blue Chai,
If you prefer to buy on Amazon, have a look at Incas
You’ll find the powder on Amazon from a company called PopJoy. Click here to check it out.
If you do buy some make sure you keep it somewhere cool and dark – while butterfly pea tea is more stable than some other types of tea, the colour and antioxidant levels of the tea both decline in the presence of heat and light.
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