The future of high-quality Ceylon tea seems bleak in the face of climate change

Int J Biometeorol. 2021 Oct;65(10):1629-1646. doi: 10.1007/s00484-021-02118-9. Epub 2021 Mar 29.


Understanding the interactive effects and relationships between biochemical elements of tea leaves and the related factors, particularly climatic, cultivar, and geographic, is key for high-quality Ceylon tea production. The objectives of this study were to (1) investigate the effects of season × cultivar × agro-ecological regions (AERs) on the four tested biochemicals in fresh tea leaves, total polyphenol content (TPC), free sugar, protein, and theanine; (2) determine the relationships between, and develop a model to estimate, the biochemicals and their related factors; and (3) project the potential concentrations and distributions of four tested biochemicals in tea leaves with respect to the current and future climate. This study primarily uses inferential statistics via the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS), cross-validation using R software, and the inverse distance weighting (IDW) approach in ArcGIS. The results demonstrate that the season, cultivar (Ceylon tea cultivars of TRI 2025 and TRI 4053), and AER and their interactions on biochemicals have significant effects (p < 0.05). The models derived in the regression analysis demonstrate the strong relationships between the independent variables and the biochemicals, with multiple correlation coefficients (R) around 0.8 and coefficient of determination (R2) around 0.6. The low standard deviation of error of prediction (SDEP < 0.1) and the high correlation coefficient of leave-one-out cross-validation (Q2) for all four biochemicals ranged from 0.56 to 0.61, which signifies the predictive ability of the models. The future projections show a considerable increase in the thresholds of all tested biochemicals. The distribution category with 'very high' concentrations of TPC and theanine is predicted to increase in the future by averages of 10% and 14%, respectively, while reducing the classes of protein and free sugar by 14% and 12%, respectively. Overall, the changing concentrations of the thresholds of relevant biochemicals and their distribution will negatively affect the final quality of tea, and these variations indicate that climate change has started to diminish Ceylon tea quality.

Keywords: Biochemicals; Climate change; Concentrations; Cultivar; Seasons; Tea quality.

MeSH terms

  • Camellia sinensis*
  • Climate Change
  • Plant Leaves
  • Sri Lanka
  • Tea


  • Tea