I was enjoying reading the recent World Tea News report when I saw a very interesting story about a rare wild tea plant.

Growing at elevations of 2,300 – 3,275 ft in a region of southern China’s Fujian province, Chinese researchers discovered the Hongyacha plant; which is a rare varietal of camellia sinensis. This plant is believed to “date back to one million years ago. It is real tea, not an herbal alternative like rooibos or chamomile, but it contains no detectable amount of caffeine.”

Green tea has risen to star status within the wellness category as its rich compounds continue to be studied for their health-promoting capacity. The issue of caffeine is the only remaining obstacle for some. There has been sufficient research on this compound to reveal that it too has some health benefits. For those especially sensitive to caffeine or those wanting their children to benefit from its polyphenol attributes, they choose to drink decaffeinated green tea. The problem here lies in the processing to remove caffeine.

“Of the estimated four billion gallons of tea consumed in the U.S. each year, around 18% is decaffeinated. The aim of the four types of processes that produce decaf teas is to maintain as much of the taste and wellness-related benefits of the original leaf as is possible, while eliminating as much of the caffeine as is possible.

“Possible” here translates more to “acceptable” than “close.” The chemical processes involve washing the tea, with soaking, straining and extraction in ethyl acetate or methylene chloride, for example. This loses 75-95 percent of the anti-oxidant polyphenols that are the core of tea’s health benefits. The most common process leaves traces of potentially dangerous chemicals on the leaf. The tea loses fullness of flavor and richness of aroma. But it’s caffeine-free and thus the choice of many consumers.”

Aside from the obvious issues of loss of flavor and depth of the tea, the toxic chemicals that are left behind in this decaffeination process pose a health risk to this otherwise wildly healthy beverage. Hongyacha brings out the best in green tea, while providing a substantial hit of EGCG. Who could ask for anything more!

For me, I very much enjoy the feeling of alert calm that I get from my first infusion of green tea each morning. By the time I’ve re-steeped the tea throughout the day, my evening cup has essentially no remaining caffeine. A good alternative for me would be a fresh cup of Hongyacha in the evening. I hope we’ll start to see this ancient varietal at our favorite tea shops.


Photo “Green” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0 to the photographer “Tigerspaws” and is being posted unaltered (source)