Beijing: Researchers have discovered a wild tea plant in China that contains little or no caffeine and, unlike many industrially decaffeinated products, could potentially provide many of the health benefits of regular brewed teas.
Hongyacha (HYC) is found in the mountains of southern China.
In the study, a team including Liang Chen from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, used high-performance liquid chromatography to analyse HYC buds and leaves collected during the growing season.
In addition to finding several potentially health-promoting compounds not found in regular tea, they determined that HYC contains virtually no caffeine.
This was because of a mutation in the gene encoding the enzyme tea caffeine synthase, which promotes caffeine production in most tea plants, Chen said, in a paper appearing in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
To decaffeinate tea, manufacturers often use supercritical carbon dioxide or hot water treatments.
However, these methods can affect the brew's flavour and destroy compounds in the tea associated with lowered cholesterol, reduced risk of heart attack or stroke, and other health benefits.
Naturally low-caffeine HYC could possibly become a popular drink because of its distinct composition and unique health benefits, Chen noted.
The tea plant was also found to cure colds, soothe stomach pain and relieve a host of other ailments, the researchers said.