Low caffeine Chinese tea plant suggested as a healthier alternative

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12 Nov 2018 --- A newly discovered wild tea plant native to China appears to have little to no caffeine and all the benefits of regular tea, according to a study published in ACS’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Decaffeinated products in the market may lack the nutrients that this new tea potentially provides, according to researchers. Hongyacha (HYC) is a wild tea variety found in the mountains of southern China. Locals believe it has therapeutic abilities, so further research was conducted to see whether this held any truth, as little was known about its chemical composition and structural makeup. 

In 2017, four billion gallons of tea was consumed in the US, according to the Tea Association of the USA and 18 percent of that was decaffeinated tea. Manufacturers use supercritical carbon dioxide or hot water treatments to produce decaffeinated tea, which may affect the flavor of the beverage, as well as destroy several of its beneficial compounds.

The antioxidant compounds, called flavonoids, are the ones that give tea its health benefits and decaffeinated tea is possibly not as beneficial. Though no one knows for sure, says Berkley University’s wellness page. It depends on how the tea is processed and the bottom line is that the less processing it undergoes, the better possibly it is for health. If the HYC can offer all the health benefits of tea and more, without caffeine, that may bring about a shift in our standard tea choices. 

In order to analyze HYC’s buds and leaves collected during the growing season, the researchers used high-performance liquid chromatography. They found that because of a mutation gene encoding the enzyme tea caffeine synthase, which is generally responsible for caffeine production in tea plants, the HYC plant contains little to no caffeine in addition to more, possibly health-promoting compounds that are not found in regular tea. 

Overall, the study concluded that it could become a popular and trendy drink due to its low caffeine levels and other health benefits.

Innova Market Insights states in its 2018 Top Trends Report that the premiumization of tea is rampant. Café based trends show that tea is innovating and brewing, blending and specialty teas are key themes. The cold brew tea trend is also becoming increasingly popular for its potential health benefits. 

The secret behind cold brewing is the steam treatment which it undergoes during the manufacturing stage to eliminate any microbiological presence, enabling brewing through regular water at room temperature. The teas are then subject to extensive microbiological testing to ensure consumer safety. 

Generally, there is a significant trend which sees consumers shifting towards healthier options, not only in food but in beverages, too.

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