With a name as delicate as its flavor, butterfly pea tea has taken the world by storm. The unique color-morphing beverage -- which can transform from deep indigo to sapphire to translucent powder blue, depending on how long (and how much) tea you steep -- is found at Starbucks’ franchises in Southeast Asia, in boba beverages, shaken up in various colorful cocktails, and used as a natural food dye for savory dishes and sweets alike. But what exactly is this vibrantly blue and purple tea -- and why is it everywhere?
The answer lies within the flower clitoria ternatea -- which is more commonly known as the butterfly pea flower, Asian pigeonwings, or dok anchan in Thailand where it natively grows. Thais believe that the humble dok anchan has a multitude of healing powers, including improvement of eyesight, hair growth, and the ability to strengthen the immune system. Some of these widely held beliefs are backed by science; one study suggests that butterfly pea flowers has antiasthmatic qualities. Another finds that the flower is full of helpful antioxidants and can decrease oxidative stress. But beyond coloring hair and finding its place in the world of natural medicine, butterfly pea tea has also seeped its way into the food and drink world.
John Mark Reyes, the owner of Dingle Berries -- a coffee and tea shop in Rosemead, California that sells boba and other sweet treats -- first became interested in butterfly pea tea after seeing the ingredient on cocktail menus. “We wanted a tea version,” he said. “Although the color is one of the many reasons why shops use it, it’s also vegan and naturally decaffeinated. It has a distinct flavor that is almost fragile.” At Dingle Berries, Reyes uses organic butterfly pea tea and a precise steeping method to ensure that his drinks preserve butterfly pea tea’s natural, light flavor -- which tastes like a very subdued version of green tea. “It almost has an earthy flavor, so it’s a great base to start if you’re mixing with other flavors. If you get the method and ratio when mixing it with other flavors, it’s uniquely pleasant.”
Currently, Reyes uses the ingredient in three of his menu items, with the most popular being the #LiquidDream: a butterfly pea tea-based drink mixed with rose extract and topped with pink cheesecake foam. Adding boba or tapioca to this drink makes for a specially indulgent treat.