50-year-old research project may spark tea growing industry in Central Valley

FRESNO, Calif. -- Next to water, tea is one of the most heavily consumed beverages in the world. Tea consumption in the United States has also seen a steady increase in recent years.

A trend is clearly brewing. Whether it's black, green, oolong or white, folks can't get enough tea. The UC Kearney Agricultural Center in Parlier holds the key to whether the Valley can meet the growing demand for tea products.

There are 13 tea plants left from a 1967 research project funded by the Lipton Tea Company.

"Well, for the most part, we all think it's a beautiful hedge," Jeff Dahlberg with the research group said. "To be honest with you, I don't think anyone really thought too much about these plants."

Once the Lipton tea project ended in the 70s, a few plants were saved for ornamental use. But a few months ago researchers with the Global Tea Initiative at UC Davis contacted the Kearney Center about the old research. They were surprised to hear these tea plants were surviving and thriving.

"And without a lot of care," Dahlberg said. "Yeah, so that's really been amazing to the folks that come down and looked at this. We've had a couple of people from India come down and look at these plants."

Dahlberg said researchers have taken samples and cuttings to develop a tea program. "These are the things that are gong to be picked," he said.

The next step will be to establish a one-acre test plot to see if tea can be a viable crop here the Valley.

"I think it does have a potential for some high-value tea products," he said. "And I can really envision some small farmers getting involved in this."

It's all because someone thought a few tea plants should be saved for landscaping purposes.
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