A Tea Story


Imagine ordering your favorite cup of tea at the coffee shop, and the waiter replies: “Unfortunately, tea is not available in the market anymore; it has gone extinct”. A nightmare is to know that the cup of your joy has gone extinct, right? In recent years, climate change has created a perfect storm that threatens the existence of tea plants among others—Read “Legends of Coffee and Chocolate” in the Winter/Spring 2022 issue. It is time to ask ourselves: Can we cope with a future without a cup of tea?

Tea is the most widely consumed beverage on Earth next to water. It is part of several traditions, and has various types and serving techniques. In our Egyptian culture, for example, tea is available in almost every household and consumed from morning till night. It is viewed as a sign of respect, if not friendship and hospitality.

No matter what the season is, tea can be served hot and iced. With endless variations and flavors, the benefits of tea go far beyond refreshment as its ingredients are now finding medicinal benefits. Since ancient times, the habit of drinking tea has been associated with general health promotion, and modern research has established this belief too. Several studies have shown that tea consumption may ward off several chronic diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Moreover, its consumption has been credited with boosting the immune system, metabolism, and helping in weight loss.

By far, China has the largest tea market worldwide, after which India and Japan rank as distant second and third. Tea has a long history; the earliest record of tea drinking is credited to China. One of the many legends tells that the tea plant was discovered in 2737 BCE by Shennong, the Chinese emperor who liked drinking boiled water. One day, as he took a rest under a wild tea bush, a dead leaf accidentally fell in his water, marking the first ever infusion of a tea leaf. Intrigued by the fragrance, the emperor took a sip and found it very refreshing, so tea came into being.



There are different legends about the history of tea plants, as there are different variations: black, green, white, and oolong. They are all produced from the same tea plant, Camellia sinensis—or another close relative in the Camellia genus—that has a long-life span and needs cool climates for cultivation; however, the harvesting process impacts the resulting product. The tea leaf obtains its unique characteristics after harvest and during its drying process; with varying oxidation levels, the production process results in different types of tea.

One of the major risks that threaten tea production at an increasingly significant pace is climate change. Tea production is threatened by rising temperatures, severe droughts, uneven and heavy precipitation, and other extreme weather events, in addition to pests and diseases. All these uncertain climate suitability scenarios among others, without interventions, are posing risks for tea production at specific locations. A “Red Listof endangered Theaceae trees, published in 2017, revealed that nearly half of the Camellia species are at risk of extinction in the wild. Despite its global cultivation, Camellia sinensis was assessed as “data deficient”, due to a lack of available information on the species wild population, according to the report.

Tea plants are already being disrupted by climate change; an increased awareness of its factors is required to find appropriate mitigation strategies. Collaboration among experts and organizations is needed more than ever to face the threats. Farmers in tea growing areas should be aided with risk management tools to prepare and deal with these threats to overcome anticipated consequences.

As we celebrate the International Tea Day on 21 May, think: where would you be without tea? I will tell you: still in bed. Now that you know the secrets behind the tea plant that brightens your day, it is your role to act responsibly and raise people’s awareness of it, to help save our timeless drink.








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SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
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