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Food and Chemical Toxicology 39 (2001) 959–962


Brief Communication

Processing procedures of brick tea and their influence on

fluorine content
Cao Jin*, Zhao Yan, Liu Jianwei
Tea and Health Laboratory, Hunan Medical University, Changsha 410078, Hunan, People’s Republic of China

Accepted 30 March 2001

China is the only country that produces brick tea, and more than 90% of the brick tea is consumed in the western minority
nationality regions of China. The high fluorine content of brick tea is possibly associated with the special processing procedures, but
no investigation has been conducted in this field. To explore the characteristic features of brick tea manufacturing and the altera-
tions in fluorine content during the processing procedures, we performed a field survey involving two brick tea factories and the
nearby tea plantations. For the fluorine contents of the initial, intermediate and final processing products, altogether eight types of
specimens were collected and determined by using the ion-selective electrode standard curve technique. It was found that the raw
material tea leaf for brick tea processing was old, coarse and not the tender delicate tea leaf used for ordinary green or black tea
processing. For the fluorine content of the raw material tea leaf, the intermediate and the final products showed that the fresh raw
leaf contained a fluorine content as high as 489.31–512.68 mg/kg. During one fermentation-like processing procedure, the fluorine
content rose by 4.67% and 1.88% in the specimens from the two factories, respectively, which revealed no statistical significance
(P>0.5). These results suggest that the high fluorine content in brick tea might be due to the high content in the raw material and
not related with the processing procedures. # 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Tea; Fluorine

1. Introduction ceae family, Camellia genus, which originated in China

and distributed around the world 1000 years ago along
China is the only country that produces brick tea. with the use of its leaves as a beverage. The tea tree has
Except for a relatively minor population in the Republic been introduced into 57 countries, and some 150 more
of Mongolia, Republic of Kazakhstan and some other countries now consume tea; however, only the minority
mid-Asian countries, more than 90% of the brick tea nationalities in the western and northern China border
commodities are consumed in the western minority regions consume this high-fluoride content brick tea.
nationality regions of China. We had reported (Cao et The major brick tea producing factories are located in
al., 1996a, 1997) that the fluorosis found in children of Hunan Province, and some in Sichuan, Hubei and
the Chinese Zang (Tibetan), Mongol, Kasak and Yugu Yunnan. One of the biological characteristics of the tea
nationalities resulted from long-term consumption of tree is that it selectively absorbs fluorine from the earth,
large quantities of brick tea in the form of milk tea. It and accumulates it progressively within the leaves. It
was reported (Cao et al., 1996b) that the fluorine con- was reported (Wei, 1995; Okada and Furuya, 1996) that
tent of Chinese brick tea was in the range of 352.2–576.4 the branches which contribute 20% to the brick tea
mg/kg and even as high as 1175.0 mg/kg in some contain 26.11–134.83 mg/kg fluorine, while the principal
regions, while in contrast the fluorine content of con- raw material, the rough and old leaves harvested during
ventional Chinese green and black teas were between July, August and September, contain 431.30–822.47 mg/
2.10 and 123.40 mg/kg (Cao, 1994). The tea tree kg fluorine. Apparently the tea-leaf fluorine content is
(Camellia sinensis L., O. Kuntze) belongs to the Thea- increased as the age of the leaf increases. The brick tea is
processed from the older, coarse and rough leaves.
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +86-731-449-8102; fax: +86-731-
However, it was also suspected (Wei, 1995) that the high
449-8102. fluorine content in the brick tea might be associated
E-mail address: caojin@public.cs.hn.cn (C. Jin). with the manufacturing process procedures. Despite
0278-6915/01/$ - see front matter # 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
PII: S0278-6915(01)00039-4
960 C. Jin et al. / Food and Chemical Toxicology 39 (2001) 959–962

recent interest from the medical profession, agriculture the mean value and the coefficient of variation were
and industry, there have been no studies reported in the obtained. The analytical devices were checked under
literature. We therefore conducted the present study in normal conditions, and standard material was deter-
order to clarify whether the high fluorine content of mined using the same methods and procedures as used
brick tea is associated with the processing procedure, in the determination of the samples. The results were
since Hunan is the major manufacturing province for compared with the standard material.
the vast majority of the brick tea commodities.

3. Results
2. Materials and methods
3.1. Characteristic features of the collection of raw
Factories A and B are the two largest brick tea man- material for processing of brick tea
ufacturing factories in Hunan province. These two fac-
tories and the nearby tea plantations were surveyed. It was revealed from the two tea plantations that the
raw material for high quality tea in the Hunan tea-pro-
2.1. Raw materials ducing areas is collected before 20 April, most being the
new buds and the small delicate leaves picked by hand.
The fresh old, coarse rough fresh tea leaves, were After 20 April through 10 May, both machine and hand
collected. The eight processing procedures that might collection is employed, and the collected raw materials
affect the physical–chemical properties of the brick tea, consisted of buds and larger but still delicate leaves.
their initial, intermediate and final product samples These raw materials are used for the production of the
were collected from the two factories, respectively. green and black (red) tea, respectively. However, the
Sampling of the initial and intermediate products was raw material for brick tea production is collected during
performed by a repetitive cross-division into four por- the period through July, August and September, which
tions, taking the two contrast parts and discarding the is late summer in Hunan Province. Collection is per-
other two parts until the sampling quantities were formed by machine, and the tea leaves are course and
reached. The brick tea products sampling method con- rough old leaves and branches, not the tender delicate
forms to the PRC National Standard GB8303-87 (Chi- leaves collected during the spring.
nese National Standard, 1988), and the preparation of
ground tea sampling and dry constituent content estima- 3.2. Processing procedures for brick tea
tion method. Five samples were taken from the surface of
each brick by an electric drill. Five parallel samples were The brick tea raw material is first processed like green
collected in each processing procedure for estimation. tea, and then processed by fermentation to a brick-form
The samples were dried in an incubator at 50 C for 6 h, intermediate which is called ‘‘black tea’’ in Hunan. This
ground, and passed through a 40-mesh sieve. processing procedure is the so-called ‘‘after-fermenta-
tion’’ technique. The fresh raw leaves and branches are
2.2. Method of preparation heated in an iron pot, 80–90 cm in diameter, after the
addition of about 10% water, and stir-fried con-
A 2000-mg sample was weighed on a Sartorius elec- tinuously with a shovel or mechanically, which is the so-
tronic balance (Sartorius, Germany; sensitivity 0.001 g), called ‘‘ShaQing’’, namely the ‘‘deactivation of
and added to 200 ml deionized water, boiled for 15 min, enzymes’’ process. The stir-fried hot leaves are then
filtered after cooling to room temperature, thus obtain- ‘‘rubbed’’ to break the cell walls and to squeeze out the
ing the filtrate I. The procedure was repeated four times juice from the tea leaves, which adheres to the surface of
and subsequent filtrates II, III and IV were obtained, the leaves. The rubbed tea leaf branches are then piled
respectively. An ion-selective electrode (ORION model into 1 m70 cm70 cm piles, and covered with wet
818, USA) measured the fluorine content in the four cloths to maintain a temperature of about 25 C and
filtrates separately with the standard curve method. The relative humidity of 85%. During the summer, these
total water-soluble fluorine content of the object sample conditions are maintained for 8–12 h or more. This is a
was the average of the four measurements. unique fermentation procedure in the processing of
black tea that induces complex chemical reactions,
2.3. Quality control measures in the determination of resulting in the specific color, smell and taste of the
fluorine content black tea and its final product, brick tea. This is the so-
called ‘‘OuDui’’, namely the ‘‘piling fermentation’’ pro-
The National Standard Material Center provided the cedure. After that, the material is rubbed further and
tea standard reference. The determination of fluorine dried to cure, and the intermediate of brick tea, the
content of the tea standard was repeated six times, and black tea, is obtained.
C. Jin et al. / Food and Chemical Toxicology 39 (2001) 959–962 961

Table 1 with the fresh leaves the increments were 4.01 and
Alteration in fluorine content during the processing of black tea (mg/kg) 1.76%, respectively. Concerning the rolling processing
n Factory A (xs) n Factory B (x s) procedure, it was found (Wang et al., 1984) that this
procedure, on heating, breaks down the cell walls and
Fresh leaves 5 489.31123.12 5 512.68178.22 decomposes the gelatinous substances, and enhances the
Deactivation of enzymes 5 491.36195.68 5 512.84211.57
Rolling 5 502.31135.54 5 515.22175.33
solubility of the ingredients and also the fluorine ions.
Pile fermentation 5 512.1699.75 5 522.33128.96 There was no generally accepted conclusion concerning
Drying 5 511.54202.35 5 521.97175.36 the actual chemical reactions related to the pile fermen-
tation procedure. It was suspected that there were
enzymic, microbial and wet-heat effects; however, the
Table 2 wet-heat effect was predominant. The increase of fluor-
Alteration in fluorine contents during the modeling of brick tea (mg/kg)
ine content might be because this specific fermentation
n Factory A (x s) n Factory B (x s) modality enhanced the solubility of fluoride within the
Steaming 5 511.32185.86 5 523.12179.23
tea leaves.
Compression 5 510.41179.44 5 522.5498.62 However, statistical analysis showed that the altera-
Drying 5 508.91165.22 5 521.68201.23 tion of fluorine content during the different processing
procedures for brick tea manufacture was non-sig-
nificant. It is evident that the high fluorine content of
At the brick tea factory the purchased black tea is the brick tea is not caused by these processing proce-
placed into a huge sealed container and steam-heated at dures but due to the original high content in the raw
98–102 C for 50 s. The black tea is then wet and soft, material fresh leaves and branches. Taking an adult
and is again piled into 2–3-m3 piles. Three to four h consuming 10 g brick tea per day, the fluorine intake
later, the temperature is gradually reduced to about was 4.89 mg, or 5.13 mg as the fresh tea leaves, and 5.09
80 C, and the height of the piles reduced. The processed or 5.22 mg as the final commodity brick tea from these
black tea is again inflated with steam for 5–6 s and then two factories, respectively.
compressed in a modeling machine under 80 tons of Fluorine appears to be an non-essential nutrient.
pressure into the brick form, and dried thereafter at 26– Intake of excess fluoride causes a harmless mottling of
28 C for 20–22 days to become the final brick tea. the teeth, called fluorosis, and bone pathology. Fur-
thermore, our animal model of brick tea-type fluorosis
3.3. Alteration in fluorine content during the processing demonstrated renal pathology exhibited as inhibited
procedure fluoride excretion and appearance of urinary b-micro-
globulin (Cao et al., 1998).
The semi-final product black tea is produced through The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA, 1989;
five steps: the fresh leaves; the deactivation of enzymes Cao et al, 1996a,b, 1997) for fluoride intake for an adult
process; the rolling process; the pile fermentation pro- was suggested as 1.5–4.0 mg, with the upper limit for an
cess; and the drying process. The fluorine content chan- adolescent as 2.5 mg. Our previous survey revealed that
ges in the samples from the two factories are listed in for foodstuffs of the Chinese western minorities, apart
Table 1. from Zamba and milk tea, which are both prepared
After a short period of steaming, the black tea with brick tea water and are high in fluoride, the milk,
becomes wet and soft, which facilitates the model com- flavoured, and others have a low fluoride content. Fur-
pressing procedure. After a further 20 days of drying, thermore, the water sources of Tibet, Qinghai, Gansu
with simple packaging, the commodity is then finally and Sichuan also have a low fluoride content. Our epi-
transported to the Chinese minority nationality regions. demiological survey in these regions indicated that con-
The alterations in fluorine content of the samples from sumption of milk and Zamba teas with added brick tea
the two factories are listed in Table 2. water increased the daily fluorine intake markedly in
excess of the RDA, resulting in endemic fluorosis (Cao
et al., 1996a, 1997, 2000).
4. Discussion Statistical data indicate that the increase in fluoride
content of brick tea after processing compared with that
It is apparent that the fluorine content in the brick tea of the fresh raw material showed no significant differ-
from the two factories showed an increasing trend, ence. The high fluoride of brick tea is not due to the
although the trend is weak and is mainly during the processing procedure. Assuming that an adult consumes
rolling and piling procedures. As compared to the raw 10 g brick tea daily, the fluoride content in the fresh leaf
material fresh tea leaves, the fluorine content from the is 4.89 or 5.13 mg, while in the brick tea it is 5.09 or 5.22
two factories increased 4.67 and 1.88%, respectively, mg, respectively, which is the reason that the Chinese
whereas in the final product brick tea in comparison western minorities suffer from fluorosis.
962 C. Jin et al. / Food and Chemical Toxicology 39 (2001) 959–962

Characteristics in the collecting season of the raw Cao, J., Bai, X.X., Zhao, Y., Liu, J.W., 1996a. The relationship of
materials for producing the green, black and brick tea fluorosis and brick tea drinking in Chinese Tibetans. Environmental
Health Perspectives 104, 1340–1343.
suggest that this should be shifted to an earlier date, so
Cao, J., Bai, X.X., Zhao, Y., Liu, J.W., 1996b. Fluorosis induced by
that by collecting the more delicate leaves it would be drinking brick tea. Fluoride 3, 139–143.
possible to decrease the fluorine content in brick tea. Cao, J., Zhao, Y., Liu, J.W., 1997. Brick tea consumption as the cause
Furthermore, use of natural, non-toxic adsorptive of dental fluorosis among children from Mongol, Kazak and Yugo
reagents can adsorb a large part of the fluoride in the populations in China. Food and Chemical Toxicology 35, 827–833.
tea water and reduce it to a safe level. We researched Cao, J., Zhao, Y., Liu, J.W., 1998. Animal model of brick tea type
fluorosis. Journal of Chinese Endemic Disease 23, 257–260.
such adsorptive additives and produced a low-fluoride Cao, J., Zhao, Y., Liu, J.W., et al., 2000. Environment fluoride con-
brick tea. Animal experiments demonstrated that this tent in Tibet. Environmental Research 83, 333–337.
low-fluoride brick tea did not produce tooth fluorosis in Cao, J., Zhao, Y., Liu, J.W., 3001. Prevention of brick tea fluorosis in
rats, and population trials are ongoing to confirm whe- rats with low-fluoride brick tea on laboratory observation. Food
ther it would indeed prevent the occurrence of fluorosis and Chemical Toxicology 39, 615–619.
Chinese National Standard, 1988. GB 8303-87. Tea-preparation of
(Cao et al., 2001) if used instead of ordinary brick tea. ground sample and determination of matter content. Tea-test
methods of physical-chemical properties.
RDA, 1989. Recommended Dietary Allowance, 10th Edition.
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