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Warming Puts Tea Time at Risk

Unusual weather makes growing tea more challenging for farmers.

That hot cup of tea that you enjoy in the evening may be at risk from climate change.

Most of the global supply of tea is grown in subtropical climates such as China, India, and Taiwan. But with warm weather appearing earlier in the spring, buds on tea plants are coming out too early, putting the season’s tea leaves at risk of frost. And hotter temperatures during the growing season are cutting productivity, reducing the amount of tea that’s harvested.

According to Taiwan tea grower Alfredo Lin, heavy rains are also a problem. In recent years, extreme rain has washed his topsoil into his drainage system. That clogs the drains and leaves water on the fields, causing the roots of the plants to rot.

And experts say the excess rain is hurting the quality of the tea, too — diluting the flavor, antioxidant properties, and caffeine levels in tea leaves.

To adapt, Lin plans to use cover crops between rows to help hold the soil in place and absorb more water.

But there are only so many ways that tea growers can adapt to the changing climate, putting the tea that so many of us enjoy at risk.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media. Image graphic: Valleys of tea in Taiwan.

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