The Buzz about Bees and Tea

When one spouse loves tea and the other keeps bees, this pin is a natural:

Let it Bee & Drink More Tea

Not sure where my daughter picked it up for us but it certainly could refer to “Let It Bee” tea, an herbal blend that contains bee pollen, honeybush, rooibos, vanilla, and honey granules (Red Stick Spice Company).

hives
Backyard hives in Michigan

But the pin made me wonder whether bees play any sort of role in the tea industry.

After all, honey bees are vital to California’s almond industry, meaning that over half the nation’s managed hives are trucked to the almond groves each spring.

The North Carolina State University exchange website states that bees are attracted to the flowers of Camellia sinensis (the tea plant), at least the variety grown in the NC area, and the Edible Wild Food website says that C. sinensis flowers are indeed pollinated by bees. . . . and flies and other insects, according to Pollinator.org.

So no, bees apparently are not overwhelmingly important for the tea industry.

Further, the tea seeds that naturally result from pollination are highly variable—which is great when you are looking to develop a plant with new characteristics, say, for resilience in the face of climate change.

But when you find a plant that has the qualities that you want, how do you ensure that you can get more plants—with those same qualities—when you can’t predict that the seedlings will closely resemble the parent plant?

Here’s where cuttings (branch taken from existing plant) and clones (genetically identical copies) come in, this vegetative reproduction ensuring consistency (because you aren’t going to get more consistent than identical). Different clones will have different properties, allowing the tea grower to choose the one best suited to the need.

You might notice that some tea gardens advertise their tea as clonal. Many of these growing areas have been hit hard by climate change and so need to make sure they have tea plants that will survive an evolving environment. Others are looking to improve the quality of their tea.

ginger-and-honey-webSo the role of bees in tea production?

Well, perhaps the addition of “bee pollen” and honey to tea blends and to brewed tea.

Bee pollen, once thought to not be digestible, can be collected from hives and is now purported to offer many benefits, with some proclaiming it holds superfood status. It is the first listed ingredient in “Let It Bee” tea.

The benefits of honey are many and well documented. Besides helping to sooth a sore throat, when added to certain teas, like a chai blend, honey is simply delicious—reason enough to combine “bees” with tea!

So definitely let’s help our bees and drink more tea, even though the two things seem to have little to do with each other.

hive cookie, honey
Honeypot by Kristin Bartlett, tea from TeaHaus, and hive cookie by Eat More Tea

And yet, our honey bees continue to be gravely endangered, and tea growers in several regions, such as Assam, are struggling to adapt to changing environmental norms.

Maybe, just maybe, the commonality between bee and tea is finding the means to survive.


Sources:
–”Camellia sinensis,” North Carolina State University, NC State Extension, https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/all/camellia-sinensis.
–”Tea plant, Camellia Sinensis,” Edible Wild Food, http://www.ediblewildfood.com/tea-plant.aspx.
–”Varieties, cultivars, clones–oh, my!,” by M. J. Coffey, 6/25/13, Tea Geek Blogs.

Specialty cookies available at Eat More Tea, Ann Arbor, and tea in photo from TeaHaus.

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