22 October 2014

Tea flavors changing with shifting rainfall patterns

by Will Parker

Tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world after water. In the United States, tea purchases have increased for 20 consecutive years and annual sales have surpassed $2.2 billion, with 160 million Americans drinking tea on any given day, according to the Tea Association of the USA. Now, a team of researchers has found that shifting patterns of precipitation affect the key chemicals responsible for the flavor and health properties of tea.

Selena Ahmed, lead author of the study, said the team's research shows that major antioxidant compounds that determine tea properties - including epigallocatechin, epigallocatechin gallate, epicatechin gallate, gallocatechin gallate, catechin, and gallic acid - rose and fell by up to 50 percent depending on rainfall patterns. Ahmed, from Montana State University, conducted the research in an area of southwest China.

The researchers collected samples during two extreme weather events - an extreme drought and an extreme monsoon - and performed a chemical analysis of the samples. The researchers also interviewed tea farmers, who perceived the tea grown during the monsoon to be of lower quality and preferred tea grown outside of the monsoon season.

The results of the research, appearing in the journal PLOS ONE, could have significant impacts on farmers' livelihoods, both in China and around the globe, Ahmed said.

"Extrapolating findings from this study with climate scenarios suggests that tea farmers will face increased variability in their livelihoods with the increased prevalence and intensity of extreme droughts and heavy rains associated with climate change," Ahmed explained. "The study has compelling implications not only for tea, but also for all other food and medicinal plants for which changes in weather patterns can alter flavor and nutritional and medicinal properties."

Research suggests that antioxidants such as polyphenols in green tea can help prevent cardiovascular disease, burn calories and even ward off some types of cancer. In addition, green tea has been used to help improve heart health, regulate body temperature and blood sugar, and promote digestion, among other uses.

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Source: Montana State University