From Initiative to Institute

The University of California, Davis (near Sacramento) is one of the world’s leading institutions for agricultural studies. Several years ago, UC Davis launched the Global Tea Initiative for the Study of Tea Culture and Science, a teaching, research and outreach effort meant to involve the entire campus, fostering and leading collaboration across the sciences, humanities and social sciences to explore ways tea influences everything from ceramics to gender roles to health practices around the world.

Describing the initiative, the university’s website states, “Until now, the study of tea has primarily focused on specific geographic regions or its health benefits. A comprehensive view of the world’s diverse tea cultures – from the ancient traditions first laid out in the Cha Jing of China to the importance of tea time in British daily life – will yield new cross-cultural and societal insights. At the same time, growing consumer demand as well as increasing interest in tea’s health benefits require a new and robust interdisciplinary approach.”

With that in mind, UC Davis is aiming to do for tea, what it did for wine (the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science) and is doing for coffee (the Coffee Center, which received a USD $250,000 endowment in 2016 from Peet’s Coffee to build a pilot roastery). In her opening remarks at the Global Tea Initiative’s 4th Annual Tea Colloquium on 24 January, Katharine Burnett, PhD, director, the Global Tea Initiative (GTI) said GTI is moving from an initiative “forward to be a global institute for the study of tea,” noting that the program will build on four pillars of strength:

  • Tea as a social good
  • Tea for cultural understanding
  • Tea in agriculture and nutrition
  • Tea for health

Drinking tea has been long been considered a healthful habit and modern medicinal research is providing a scientific basis for this belief. Evidence supporting the health benefits of tea drinking grows stronger with each new study that is published in scientific literature. For example, studies have shown that tea may have anti-carcinogenic potential, but more research is required. Furthermore, there are studies showing that tea improves cardiovascular health and mental acuity, but no health claims yet meet with US government approval. With its “many centers of excellence,” including a leading-edge Institute for Population Health and nationally designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, UC Davis, via its Health System believes it has the breadth of specialties and clinical trial programs needed to elucidate how tea supports and enhances health.

Pursuant to that, the focus of this year’s Tea Colloquium was “Body, Mind, Spirit: Issues Surrounding Tea & Health,” and highlighted the integral role tea plays in maintaining the human body, mind, and spirit.

The day-long event, which drew more than 500 participants including students, alumni and tea professionals, was broken into three segments – Tea, Health and the Body; Tea, Health and the Mind; and Tea, Health and the Spirit –- and offered interdisciplinary presentations that delved into the health, psychology, and spirituality around tea. Speakers included Dr Ping Chung Leung from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Dr Weronica Ek from Uppsala University, Dr Yu-Jui Yvonne Wan from UC Davis, and Wing Chi Ip, owner and director, LockCha Teahouse, Hong Kong. “The health benefits of tea have been known for centuries,” he claimed, adding, “tea is derived from collective terms for ‘herbs that cure sickness’…This is why tea has such prominence.”

Other events during the Colloquium included networking, showcases and tea tastings from companies such as Bitaco Tea, Harney & Sons, International Tea Importers, ITO EN (North America), Mighty Leaf Tea, Rishi Tea, and Sugimoto Tea, as well as a tea careers networking event for UC Davis students that preceded the presentations. A full review of GTI’s 4th Tea Colloquium will appear in T&CTJ’s February issue.

The 5th Tea Colloquium – The Great Debate: Tea & Wine – will be held in conjunction with the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, 16-17 February 2020. For more information on the Global Tea Initiative or next year’s Tea Colloquium, visit:

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