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Did You Know That Little Tea Leaf is Full of Science?

The simple, wonderful beverage of tea, that millions have come to love worldwide, is much more complex than you may think!

Did you know that nature plays in the development of the tea plant Camellia sinensis?

In order to survive, the tea plant needs water, sunlight, and other raw materials to fuel its metabolic processes. Metabolic processes are chemical reactions in which plant cells produce the substances and energy needed to survive. Since the tea plant is not capable of sprouting legs and moving on its own, it must adapt to the environment in which it is planted. This is where the concept of terroir is applied to tea. Terroir, in relation to tea, refers to the specific variety of tea, the local climate and soil of the growing region, and the traditions of the area in which the tea is produced. You can read all about #terroir in our post here.

Did you know the world's most popular drug is #caffeine? Tea plants produce caffeine as one of its secondary metabolites. Caffeine production is not essential to the life of the plant but is stored within the plant to deter bugs from feeding on its leaves. The bitter taste of caffeine is a natural pesticide, and the buzz we get from drinking its brew is just an added perk (pun intended). In any case, tea and its secondary metabolites have been enjoyed for the past 5,000 years! Check out the effects of more secondary metabolites below.

Did you know the world's most popular drug is #caffeine?

Popular Secondary Metabolites & Their Effects on Humans

Did you know that the flavor of the tea's brew is made up of every part of the tea plant's cell? The tea leaf contains a wide range of chemical compounds that can vary from terroir to terroir. Three major parts of the tea's cell provide the leaf's development of its aroma, body, and taste of it's brewed tea:

· The outer covering of the plant is the cell wall. This little wall contains cellulose (a polysaccharide containing glucose), and pectin (a complex group of polysaccharides).

· Cellular processes take place in the cytoplasm which contains proteins (organic compounds made of amino acids), enzymes (proteins that catalyze the oxidation process of the leaf), lipids (molecules that contain fat-soluble vitamins) and starch (complex carbohydrates containing lots of glucose).

· Lots of action happens in the vacuole. Food storage, digestive and waste management processes happen in the little vacuole, which contains polyphenols (secondary metabolite that produces flavonols and tannins), xanthines (alkaloids like caffeine), amino acids (L-theanine), soluble sugars (specifically glucose, sucrose and fructose), organic acids (like gallic acid which produces EGCG when bonded with polyphenols), pigments (which are part of the flavonoid family), volatiles (compounds that produce tea aromatics) and vitamins (trace amounts of A, B, C, & E). Whew!

Did you know that centuries of experience has provided tea producers with the knowledge that some plant stressors actually can improve the flavor and aroma of the tea, yet reduces overall yields? These stressors include high elevation, frost damage, rocky soils, insect damage, and shading. Alternatively, favoring quality at higher altitudes with cooler, drier weather produces a better tasting product with lower yields.

For example, Darjeelings growing in high elevation create unique flavors and high concentrations of aroma. Frost damage increases a plant's secondary metabolites producing more pronounced flavors, where rocky soil teas can offer a more mineral cup character. A leaf with insect damage produces truly unique flavors and aromas, where shade-grown tea crops tend to have fewer polyphenols (which results in less astringency in the cup), and higher levels of caffeine and L-theanine amino acid (which produces a fuller body with rich umami characteristics).

Well, if you didn't already know, you do now! By understanding how the tea plant functions and survives, tea producers better understand how to grow and cultivate the tea plant to produce high-quality teas. The combination of tea terroir and science allows skilled producers to manipulate the tea plant during its growth cycle to set up the chemistry that is needed during the processing of the leaf. All this tea knowledge can help you to be a better tea developer, purchaser, and cupper. Thirsty for more knowledge? The #teaexperts at Hula Consulting can help with your tea education courses, ingredient sourcing, and more! Email to or call 561.600.7025 to get started today.

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