Growing a California Tea Industry

Jeff Dahlberg, left, and Jacquelyn Gervay-Hague
Jeff Dahlberg, left, and Jacquelyn Gervay-Hague stand in front of nine tea plants at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

Researchers around the world are taking advantage of advances in genetic engineering, molecular biology, genomics and horticultural science to develop varieties of tea with less caffeine, as well as others with improved flavor, resistance to stress, or increased yields, according to a story in Nature magazine.

Jacquelyn Gervay-Hague, a chemical biologist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science, is featured in the story for her efforts to jump-start tea production as a new industry in California. Gervay-Hague is a research affiliate of the UC Davis Global Tea Initiative for the Study of Tea Culture and Science (GTI), which brings together faculty from disciplines ranging from agriculture, chemistry, and medicine to art, religious studies, and literature.

A team led by Gervay-Hague is planting 30 varieties of tea at seven sites across coastal, flat agricultural and mountainous regions of the state, reporter Elie Dolgin writes in Nature. Gervay-Hague’s goal is to better understand the links between growth conditions and tea-plant quality. Her team is also feeding the plants chemically labeled nutrients to track their metabolic processes and interactions with soil microorganisms. “We expect to find that certain varieties are going to do better in certain areas, and we’ll have a chemical basis for understanding that,” says Gervay-Hague.

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