SCIENTISTS DISCOVERED A NEW NATURALLY CAFFEINE-FREE TEA PLANT
I came across two articles about a newly discovered caffeine-free or low caffeine tea plant in China. Unlike decaffeinated tea which is man-made and affects a tea’s flavor, this is completely natural decaffeinated tea that retains its true flavor. The information I shared here was gleaned primarily from Science Daily and China Gene Network.
The new tea plant is currently named HongYaCha or literally ‘red leaf tea’. According to American Chemistry Society’s Journal of Agriculture & Food Chemistry, Chinese scientists Professor Liang and his colleagues from China’s Tea Research Institute discovered the wild tea plant in a narrow and isolated valley at 700 to 1000 metres above sea level in Fujian province in Southern China.
Unlike rooibos which is actually a herb and has no caffeine, HongYaCha is camellia sinensis, the same tea plant that produces black, oolong, green, white and pu-erh tea. The key is the mutation in the gene encoding the enzyme tea caffeine synthase, which promotes caffeine production in ‘normal’ tea plants. This mutation in HongYaCha causes the plant to produce no to minimal caffeine.
Red Leaf Tea Plant vs. Decaffeinated Tea
This is potentially a game changer. Currently there’re decaffeinated teas in the market, however during the process to decaffeinate the tea, the brew’s flavour is affected and the compounds in tea associated with various health benefits like lowering cholesterol, reducing heart attack are destroyed. So this development makes HongYaCha a significantly healthier tea than decaffeinated tea, and a fantastic option to rooibos if consumers prefer the base flavour of camellia sinensis.
Red Leaf Tea Plant vs. ‘Normal’ Tea Plant
Analysing the buds and leaves of HongYaCha, Professor Liang and his team found that in ‘normal’ tea plant the main alkaloids and catechins (antioxidants) are caffeine and cis-catechin respectively. While HongYaCha contains mainly trans-catechin, theobromine (an alkaloid as a result of the metabolism of caffeine) and undetectable caffeine. They also found some rare compounds in red folic acid which is a B-vitamin that helps the body make red blood cells, potentially making HongYaCha a more healthy tea than normal tea plants.
I don’t think the HongYaCha is available in the market yet, but the discovery of a naturally decaffeinated tea is exciting and I can’t wait to try it. It’s only as recent as a few years back that we have purple tea from Kenya if my memory serves me, and now we have red leaf tea that’s all natural and not man-made. The tea world never ceases to amaze me.
To see our range of caffeine free teas / decaffeinated tea, please click here.