Black Tea Quality is Highly Affected during Processing by its Leaf Surface Microbiome

J Agric Food Chem. 2021 Jun 30;69(25):7115-7126. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.1c01607. Epub 2021 Jun 21.


Microbiomes can greatly affect the quality of fermented food and beverages, including tea. In this study, microbial populations were characterized during black and green tea manufacturing, revealing that tea processing steps can drive both the bacterial and fungal community structure. Tea leaves were found to mostly harbor Proteobacteria, Bacteriodetes, Firmicutes, and Actinobacteria among bacteria and Ascomycetes among fungi. During processing, tea microbial populations changed especially between sterilized and unsterilized samples. The surface sterilization of fresh leaves before processing can remove many microbes, especially the bacteria of the genera Sphingomonas and Methylobacteria, indicating that these are mostly phylloplane microbes on tea leaves. The surface sterilization removed most fungi, except the Debaryomyces. We also observed a fluctuation in the content of several tea quality-related metabolites during processing. Caffeine and theanine were found in the same quantities in green tea with or without leaf surface sterilization. However, the sterilization process dramatically decreased the content of total catechins and theanine in black tea, indicating that microbes on the surface of tea leaf may be involved in maintaining the formation of these important metabolites during black tea processing.

Keywords: black tea; microbial community; surface sterilization; tea processing; tea quality.

MeSH terms

  • Camellia sinensis*
  • Catechin* / analysis
  • Microbiota*
  • Plant Leaves / chemistry
  • Tea


  • Tea
  • Catechin