Scientists reveal the “dirty” secret to a better, tastier cup of tea

The researchers found that the presence of certain microbial communities on the tea leaves would improve the quality and taste of the final drink

It’s a common belief that the taste of tea is solely dependent on the variety of the plant used. However, a groundbreaking study from China has revealed an unexpected key ingredient that could enhance the world’s most beloved beverage: the microbial community present in the roots.

Researchers from Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University have found that the quality and taste of tea are closely linked to these root-dwelling microbes, as they influence how the plant absorbs nutrients, ultimately shaping the tea’s flavor and aroma.

A Millennia-Old Tradition Meets Modern Science

China, with its millennia-old tradition of tea cultivation and a wealth of varieties exported globally, faces the modern challenge of improving tea quality through molecular genetic selection methods. The goal is to make this cherished product even better and more appealing.

Unveiling the Microbial Influence

To delve deeper into the relationship between microbial communities and the flavor of the final product, the researchers compared different tea varieties. They made a surprising discovery: those varieties whose roots hosted a specific combination of microbes also had higher concentrations of theanine, an amino acid that imparts the savory umami flavor to tea.

This particular microbial community, already present in nature, was replicated in the laboratory and grafted onto various tea plant varieties lacking in theanine. This led to an increase in the amino acid’s concentration and, consequently, an enhancement of the tea’s taste.

Beyond Taste: Unexpected Benefits

The presence of specific microbial communities on the roots of tea plants offers another unexpected advantage: improved plant yield. This improvement was observed in both lower and higher quality plants, even in challenging soils, such as those low in nitrogen. Thus, these microbial communities could lead to a reduction in the use of chemical fertilizers, lowering production costs and, more importantly, reducing soil pollution.

Expanding the Research

The researchers have extended their analysis of the relationship between microbial communities and plant yield to other crops, such as Arabidopsis thaliana, demonstrating that this strategy could be beneficial for improving the quality of various cultivations. For instance, it could enhance the yield of crops like rice, increasing its protein content and offering a solution to the food crisis affecting many countries worldwide.

Source: Current Biology

The article draws upon studies published and recommendations from international institutions and/or experts. We do not make claims in the medical-scientific field and report the facts as they are. Sources are indicated at the end of each article.
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