Leveraging the science behind tea

Tea is one hot commodity. Product differentiation begins with identifying salient chemical components with specific health effects. It also involves patents, human research and communicating results. Anthony Almada, MSc, tells how

The science and intellectual property circumscribed by tea is enormous. Since the publication of the fourth edition of the ?US Tea is Hot? report in 2001, more than 1,000 research studies have been conducted. With a similar degree of intensity, more than 450 patents on tea or Camellia sinensis were applied for or issued worldwide.

Both science and patents can be harbingers of new product and processing directions and potential — indicator tea leaves of what is to come in consumer products.

Tea?s functional attributes centre around its polyphenol compounds known as catechins — honeycomblike chemical structures that have many phenol components integrated into the molecular backbone. One specific catechin ? epigallocatechin-3-O-gallate (ECGC) — made such an impression on German drug giant Bayer Corp (makers of One-A-Day brand vitamins) that it is now the purported active ingredient in a new Bayer product called One-A-Day WeightSmart. EGCG is the most extensively researched constituent in tea, as well as the most abundant catechin in green tea. However, tea contains hundreds of intriguing bioactive compounds, many with desirable features and attributes.

L-theanine, for example, has some intriguing and consumer-relevant biological effects. Preliminary human studies conducted in Japan have shown L-theanine to produce a state of reduced anxiety in humans and to lower blood pressure and the anxiety-promoting effects of caffeine in animals.1,2 Caffeine is one of three constituents in tea that belong to a class of chemicals called methylxanthines. The others are theophylline and theobromine. In tea leaves, the order of concentration of these methylxanthine compounds starts with caffeine, then down to theobromine and theophylline.3,4 Theophylline is marketed as a prescription bronchodilator drug in its pure form, both as a pill and liquid, for asthma. Theobromine-rich extracts of cocoa have recently been introduced as dietary supplements ingredients claiming to promote weight loss, but no published human evidence exists to support such maverick claims.

Still, the emblematic constituents of tea are its phenolic compounds. Researchers from New Zealand recently conducted experiments to assess the catechin polyphenol chemo-profile of green, oolong and black teas and the effects of various production steps on concentrations of catechin polyphenols in infusions.5

The results showed three significant conclusions. One, green and oolong teas have nearly double the catechin polyphenols and EGCG yields when the water temperature was 100oC, compared with 60o or 80oC. Two, total catechin polyphenol and EGCG contents of the green (136mg/g and 78.1mg/g tea leaves, respectively) and oolong (114.4mg/g and 85.7mg/g) teas, brewed at 100oC, were quite similar. Black tea samples had far lesser concentrations (32.4mg/g and 6.8mg/g). Three, brewing at 100oC generated EGCG and catechin polyphenol concentrations that were 10-14 times higher than those teas brewed at room temperature (20oC).

Processing, brewing, packaging and storage all have an effect on the end result, be it a ready-to-drink, ready-to-brew or ready-to-swallow (pill) format. The body of evidence suggests that the closer to boiling the infusion temperature, the greater the amount of nutrients and phytochemicals that will be present in the brewed tea.

Employing steps to assess how each step in the production chain influences the finished product — and how the consumer uses and stores a product — may exalt your brand and product far above your competitor?s. Communicating to consumers the human and financial capital expended to deliver the genuine tea article will help to underscore the quality and uniqueness of your offering.

What happens to the catechin polyphenols that are in green tea, remain to a large extent in oolong tea, and then virtually disappear in black tea? They form new tea bioactives called theaflavins and thearubigins and appear to be unique to black tea.

Recently, Unilever?s R&D lab in the UK developed a simulated system through which a green tea extract can be oxidised, resulting in theaflavins quite similar to black tea extract.6 If this immobilised enzymatic oxidation method were commercially scaleable, it could usher in a whole new way of producing polyphenol-rich tea extracts under controlled oxidation conditions and relatively free of impurities.

Although these tea pigments have not yet generated high levels of media excitement, they enjoy distinctive bioactivity, some of which may explain the health-promoting and disease-abating effects seen among some populations of copious black tea consumers. From a business differentiation perspective, if one can consistently make a tea product with a signature profile, and employ other value-adding steps, a new category of tea products could be born.

For tea products delivered in a manner that circumvents or masks taste — for example, solid dosage and food forms — or for taste-drive tea products that are seeking taste and ?in the body? performance, demonstrating biological effectiveness may be the equivalent of strapping on a rocket engine to an otherwise laggard product or ingredient. This is an important consideration, based on the increasing use of tea extracts in functional beverages, foods, dietary supplements and skin-care products.

Trials and tribulations
If your company is seeking a respected platform built upon human evidence that your tea product is safe and effective, human studies are the only way to go. However, the biggest hurdle that confronts most small- to mid-sized tea product or ingredient marketers is the mindset and familiarity of the CEO with science and intellectual property. Most of the people at the top climbed up the sales and marketing ladder, not the academic or scientific tower.

Clinical trials, it need be noted, are not nearly as costly, time-consuming or subject to intellectual piracy as you might think. If the results of a human study are positive and they are efficiently communicated, you now have ?Tea That Works? and a branding opportunity to achieve remarkableness. Who cares about the competition?s in vitro ORAC values? Not you, when you have human science on your product. If you?re smart and the tea leaves bear good tidings, your incremental revenues and meteoric sales velocity will fund more and larger human studies, to grow the momentum.

The most critical aspect of a strategic human research undertaking is what you do with the results. If the results are positive, they should be communicated within the scientific community first, announced at least with a more detailed communication than that afforded by a company-issued press release or advertisement. This renders your results far more newsworthy. Now you can orchestrate a media campaign around the scientific communications that can take your results into mainstream media like daily newspapers, large-circulation magazines and even radio and television.

An integrated approach to creating and leveraging knowledge assets for commercial tea products is far less daunting than it may seem. The overwhelming amount of knowledge captured in published tea science and patents offers a freely accessible window into a world of opportunity that very few tea businesses have chosen to explore. For every stage of company maturity, from business plan to business expansion financing, there is a budget and a need to invest. Identifying a unique single paper or patent could produce a change in business direction and strategy of potentially mammoth significance.

With increased revenues and product distribution comes the opportunity to make an investment in more involved, complex and value-adding science. Here, an integrated intellectual property management plan becomes pivotal. Ideally, almost all that you create and ideate will be insulated: trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, patents and product-specific science. This is when the inimitable evolves into the invincible. And isn?t that what a quality tea product should be?

Derived from: ?The Science of Tea / Tea Is ?Hot? Report? - 5th Ed. (www.teareport.com). by Anthony L. Almada, MSc. Published by Sage Group International LLC. Respond: [email protected] All correspondence will be forwarded to the author.

References
1. Juneja LR, et al. L-theanine ? a unique amino acid of green tea and its relaxation effect in humans. Trends Food Sci Tech 1999; 10:199-204.
2. Yokogoshi H, Terashima T. Effect of theanine, r-glutamylethylamide, on brain monoamines, stiatal dopamine release and some kinds of behavior in rats. Nutrition 2000; 16:776-7.
3. Bonoli M, et al. Fast determination of catechins and xanthines in tea beverages by micellar elecrokinetic chromatography. J Agr Food Chem 2003; 51:1141-7.
4. Fernandez PL, et al. The use of catechins and purine alkaloids as descriptors for the differentiation of tea beverages. Microchim Acta 2003; 142:79-84.
5. Kilmartin PA, Hsu CF. Characterisation of polyphenols in green, oolong and black teas, and in coffee, using cyclic voltammetry. Food Chem 2003; 82:501-12.
6. Bonnely S, et al. A model oxidation system to study oxidised phenolic compounds present in black tea. Food Chem 2003; 83:485-92.

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