Villarrica grows a variety with a high content of antioxidants and a low level of caffeine, in order to place it on the local and international market. In the coming years, Chile will be famous in the world for the production of the southernmost organic green tea in the world, originating from the Araucanía Region. This initiative is implemented by the company Index Salus with the co-financing of the Foundation for Agrarian Innovation (FIA) of the Ministry of Agriculture.
The project is called “Development of a commercial plantation of organic tea (Camellia sinensis) for the production of green tea distinguished by its high quality and low caffeine content in the municipality of Villarrica, region of La Araucanía.” The initiative — in which the Green Vitro laboratory also participates — has a total cost of USD 166,463,207, to which the FIA contributed 65.7%.
In Chile, only green tea is imported as a raw material in bulk, packaged and sold by two companies that dominate the black tea market. Therefore, Index Salus set out to grow and spread value-added organic green tea.
Commercially, the variety the company works with is characterized by high antioxidant content and low caffeine levels, making it similar to Japanese Bancha tea, which also has up to 2% caffeine.
Sensory attributes are its yellow color, intense smell and slightly bitter taste.
In 2003, the company imported nearly 5,000 plants from the United States. They currently keep about 1,000 that have adapted well to the soil and climate.
Regarding the strengths of the local product, Index Salus’ general manager, Peter Brunner, pointed out that “they are related to the type of soil — volcanic with acid or low pH — and the high amount of precipitation. These are the factors responsible for our green tea developing characteristics similar to Japanese bach.”
The executive pointed out that there are currently two varieties that have become very resistant and have developed adequately on farms.
Based on experience, after the establishment of the plantation, harvesting for commercial purposes is possible only in the third year. According to estimates, it is possible to get about 1.5 to 1.8 kg of jars of tea from one plant, or 5000 to 6000 kg/ha. Compared to the dry product, there would be 1400 to 1500 kg of leaves and shoots.
Brunner indicated that the product’s entry markets will be Chile, Europe, the United States and Canada, due to the company’s commercial relationships with those countries. Even customers have expressed great interest in drinks with these characteristics.
Internationally, green tea sells for $5,000 to $6,000 per kilogram for its organic properties and sensory quality.
The general manager added that the packaging will be in bags, like TBC cut for infusions, and maybe also in the form of leaves for preparation in teapots. For overseas buyers, it could be exported in bulk as fine pieces or as whole sheets.
The executive director of innovation and supervisor of the project, Juan Carlos Galaz, stated that “this project is an example of the application of innovation in the diversification of the national production offer, by growing a product that did not previously exist in the country and where “the national climatic conditions were considered not suitable for its cultivation, which is disproved by this experience.”
However, the raw material requires special treatment. After the tea is picked, it must be taken to a processing line, where enzymatic cutting, twisting and drying are carried out, in order to then make a fine cut suitable for packing into individual bags.
To this end, the project contemplates determining the production processes through the procurement of a prototype processing machine, in order to make the production more profitable, ensuring low levels of caffeine, quality and ultimate safety of the product.
At the agronomic level, the proposal aims to establish and implement procedures for the commercial management of tea cultivation in order to optimize yield and quality of raw materials. In addition, the creation and validation of efficient techniques for in vitro and vegetative propagation of plants, based on the selection of ecotypes with lower caffeine content, is considered.