Messing with your cup of tea sounds like a sacrilegious process but there are people out there trying to do just that.

     Over 2 billion cups of black tea are consumed on a daily basis, worldwide. I am tempted to ask how anyone can measure that, but I will accept it for now.

     Tea producers have long assumed that the flavor of the tea is determined by the oxidation of the chemicals in the tea during the drying process. However, there has been a suspicion that at least part of that flavor-producing process comes from fermentation, and not just from oxidation. Micro-organisms are required for fermentation and, so, if this is true, it has been a matter of conjecture that micro-organisms could be manipulated to produce different flavors. Messing with your cup of tea, as I said.

     I am also tempted to say, “Don’t we have enough teas on our supermarket shelves as it is? Why do we need more?

     Researchers in China decided to test the theory that fermentation-producing microbes are responsible for the taste of tea, rather than the drying/oxidation process. They obtained a quantity of tea from a local producer, and divided it into two samples. They subjected one sample to the normal drying process, but sterilized the second sample before drying it – one sample with fermentation microbes, and one without.

     They then used a traditional method of checking the flavor – they brewed and drank multiple cups of tea. If the taste of the two samples was the same, they could conclude that fermentation played no part in the resulting flavor. In fact, they found the flavor was significantly different. Further tests showed that the chemistry of the two samples was also different.

     Their next step, currently underway, is to identify the bugs/microbes that produce the flavor. Once they have done that, they think they will be able to manipulate the fermentation process to change the flavor of the tea.

     They are not there yet, but be prepared for an explosion of tea varieties on your supermarket shelves, as the marketing opportunities are pursued and exploited. We may never recognize our beloved cups of tea again……..and the world will obviously end as a result!

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