What gives tea its flavour?

What gives tea its flavour?

Every day, tens of millions of cups of tea are drunk in the UK alone, and many people have a favourite blend or brand.  At Zanos the kettle is always on, Lapsang for Julian, only the finest ‘builders’ for Jayne and Rachel and Earl Grey for Debs. But what gives tea its distinctive and complex flavour and keeps us reaching for a refill?

Following a study that took more than five years, a team from China have completed sequencing the tea tree genome – the complete genetic code of the Camellia sinensis tree from which commercially produced tea is made.

The tea tree joins other plants including coffee, pepper, potato and tomato in having been fully sequenced, but is the largest genome of the five, with parts of its code having persisted and duplicated over the course of more than 50 million years.

In the genome, there are numerous proteins that in turn manufacture the flavoursome elements of the tea tree – including the signature bitter taste of tea, a flavonoid called catechin, and other antioxidants that add to the complex taste.

The research has implications going beyond just tea as a hot drink, as the Camellia genus includes species like Camellia oleifera, from which tea tree oil is produced, Zanos supplies this into a wide range of applications for personal care and household products.

Further research is already underway to investigate the Camellia sinensis genome in greater detail, including finding out more about how the genetics of the species lead to the flavours found in tea leaves.

Plant geneticist Lizhi Gao of Kunming Institute of Botany said: “We are working on an updated tea tree genome that will investigate some of the flavour. We want to get a map of different tea tree variation and answer how it was domesticated, cultivated and dispersed to different continents of the world.”

Camellia sinensis is the source of several types of tea, depending on how the leaves are processed: black tea from heavily oxidised leaves; green tea, which is not withered or oxidised; and white tea, produced with minimal processing, often from younger leaves. Zanos supplies this virtual rainbow of colours from supplier Payan Bertrand to perfumers and flavourists throughout the UK and Europe.

Zanos customers may also have seen a presentation recently from Alexia Giolivo, vice-president of sales at Payan Bertrand’s natural ingredients division, who demonstrated samples of Rooibos resinoid earlier this month.

Rooibos is not derived from Camellia sinensis, but from the South African ‘red bush’ tree, Aspalathus linearis, and this has become popular in recent years as a source of caffeine-free herbal tea which is high in Vitamin C.

Rooibos resinoid is a dark greenish-brown viscous liquid that can be stored for up to a year at less than 18 degrees Celsius, and imparts a flavour of fig and chocolate in perfumes, cosmetics and foods.

Contact Zanos to learn more about our supplies of Rooibos resinoid, or of Camellia sinensis natural ingredients including tea tree essential oils. The kettle is always on.

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