Fu brick tea (FBT) is one of the major brands of dark tea. Microbial fermentation is considered the key step in the development of the special characteristics of FBT. The systemic corelationship of the microbiome and metabolomics during manufacture of Fu brick tea is not fully understood. In this study, we comprehensively explored the microbiome and metabolite dynamic evolution during the FBT manufacturing processes, and revealed decisive factors for the quality and safety of FBT based on the grouped methods of metabolomics combined with biochemical measurements, microbiome sequencing combined with quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and multiplex analysis. Both the microbiome and quantitative PCR showed that fungi displayed concentrated distribution characteristics in the primary dark tea samples, while bacterial richness increased during the flowering processes and ripening period. All microorganism species, as well as dominant fungi and bacteria, were identified in the distinct processes periods. A total of 178 metabolites were identified, and 34 of them were characterized as critical metabolites responsible for metabolic changes caused by the corresponding processes. Metabolic analysis showed that most metabolites were decreased during the FBT manufacturing processes, with the exception of gallic acid. Multivariate analysis verified that the critical metabolites were correlated with specific dominant microbial species. All the top fungal species except unclassified_g_ Aspergillus showed positive correlations with six critical metabolites (L-The, epigallocatechin (EGC), Gln, tea polyphenol (TP), tea polysaccharides (TPs) and caffeine). Five of the top bacteria species (Cronobacter, Klebsiella, Pantoea, Pluralibacter, and unclassified_ f_Entero-bacteriaceae) showed positive correlations with epigallocatechins and tea polyphenols, while the other 11 top bacterial species correlated negatively with all the critical metabolites. The content of amino acids, tea polyphenols, tea polysaccharides, and flavonoids was reduced during microbial fermentation. In conclusion, our results reveal that microbial composition is the critical factor in changing the metabolic profile of FBT. This discovery provides a theoretical basis for improving the quality of FBT and enhancing its safety.
Keywords: Fu brick tea; bioactivity; bioprocesses; metabolomics; microbiology.