June 21, 2022 – From Turkey to Japan to many other countries, tea is a valuable product grown around the world. Although real tea comes from Camellia sinensis plant, its sensitivity to its surroundings leads to many varieties. Tea research is currently largely on the radar, which is why the UC Davis Global Tea Initiative (GTI) was founded.
GTI is the first and only group dedicated to the promotion of research and teaching in the field of tea culture and science. The initiative provides teachers with opportunities to identify research interests and collaborate with members of the tea industry. It also promotes tea research through partnerships with institutes in countries such as Taiwan, Japan and Kenya. Through GTI UC Davis hopes to draw attention to the effect of tea on culture, society, science and health.
During a virtual event, UC Davis faculty experts, including Dean of the College of Literature and Science Estella Atequana, who moderated the discussion, shared the art and culture of tea and the ways in which the GTI Professional Tea Program helps the industry. These questions and answers have been adapted from the discussions, part of an ongoing series of virtual events called Plugged, where UC Davis leaders address the most pressing issues of our time.
How did tea enter different societies and civilizations?
Dr. Catherine Burnett, founder and director of the Global Tea Initiative; Professor of Art History: People trade in goods and are always looking for opportunities to exchange. Tea is a monetary crop that was first grown in southwestern China and spread in the “tea belt” from northwestern India to southern China. By the 7th century, it had spread throughout China. Later, in the 16th and 17th centuries, tea spread due to demand. People liked it, imported it and wanted more from it.
How does the global tea industry support research?
Jacqueline Gervais-Hague, Ph.D. Professor, Chemistry and Food Sciences Graduate Group: Many industry groups have their own research enterprises. For example, Japan has a research institution that I know in Shizuoka. They teach courses for potential tea producers and processors. Many of these international research institutes have partnered with UC Davis in the hope of attracting students to encourage them to pursue careers in the tea industry.
How has the pandemic and climate change affected tea production and supply?
Dr. Jim Brown, Chair of Vocational Research, Continuing and Vocational Education at UC Davis: When the pandemic was first announced in March 2020, it was the first harvest and it really affected industry around the world. Although China did not see much change, it had a devastating effect on India with the complete cessation of operations in Darjeeling. In Kenya, they sat on a huge inventory of tea that no one paid for. With the loss of Indian tea, they actually benefited greatly from their tea market. Countries like Sri Lanka considered tea production essential, so they supported everything that led to the devastating spread of COVID in those countries.
What does the future of the Global Tea Initiative look like and are there tangible ways to support it?
Burnett: People write all the time from all over the world asking if they can come to Davis to study as scientists and as students. To build our curriculum and ensure that GTI is durable, what we need to do is build infrastructure. Things that would be great to support would be gifted professors in different colleges and schools to ensure that an expert always teaches about tea. It would be great to give funds to improve the development of the curriculum, to support the research of teachers in specific projects and to donate funds for a gifted director.