Principal Investigator: Prof Zeno Apostolides
The year 2002 was marked by the culmination of a long line of work on the quality of tea. Dr Lawrie Wright obtained his PhD in Biochemistry. In this work he has discovered that some of the minor components of fresh tea leaves, namely epicatechin and epicatechin gallate can be used to predict the quality/value of tea made from such leaves. Analysis of the theaflavins in the made tea can used to predict the value of the final product. This work has led to three publications. This work was followed by a post-doc study conducted mainly at the Tea Research Foundation in Malawi where the colour of fresh leaves was found to be a good predictor of made tea quality. Inexpensive and non-destructive colour measurements were found to be statistically as good predictors of made tea quality as expensive and destructive chromatographic analysis. This finding has major practical implications for the breeding and selection of new tea cultivars and was well received by the tea industry.
A collaborative project with the Life Sciences Institute of Japan was initiated. In this project tea cultivars produced in Malawi and South Africa will be analyzed and compared to tea cultivars from many tea-producing countries like Argentina, India, China, Japan etc. This data will be available on a database and may help South African exporters conquer new niche markets. Global awareness of the health properties of tea is driving demand for tea extracts with high antioxidant properties, like the ones produced in Southern Africa.
Our attempts to develop a method for comparing the efficacy of tea antioxidants for the prevention of exercise induced oxidative stress have been unsuccessful to date. This is partly due to the excellent health of our student volunteers. New extreme “torture” treatments are being designed and we hope to show the benefit of tea drinking on human athletes in the near future as part of the MSc study by Mrs Yolanda de Haaij.