Tea [Camellia sinensis (L.) O. Kuntze] is one of the most important beverage crops in the world. The major tea-growing regions of the world are South-East Asia and Eastern Africa where it is grown across a wide range of altitudes up to 2200 m a.s.l.. This paper reviews the key physiological processes responsible for yield determination of tea and discusses how these processes are influenced by genotypic and environmental factors. Yield formation of tea is discussed in terms of assimilate supply through photosynthesis and formation of harvestable sinks (i.e. shoots). The photosynthetic apparatus and partial processes (i.e. light capture, electron transport and carboxylation) of tea show specific adaptations to shade. Consequently, maximum light-saturated photosynthetic rates of tea are below the average for C3 plants and photoinhibition occurs at high light intensities. These processes restrict the source capacity of tea. Tea yields are sink-limited as well because shoots are harvested before their maximum biomass is reached in order to maintain quality characters of made tea. In the absence of water deficits, rates of shoot initiation and extension are determined by air temperature and saturation vapour pressure deficit, with the former having positive and the latter having negative relationships with the above rates. During dry periods, when the soil water deficit exceeds a genotypically- and environmentally-determined threshold, rates of shoot initiation and extension are reduced with decreasing shoot water potential. Tea yields respond significantly to irrigation, a promising option to increase productivity during dry periods, which are experienced in many tea-growing regions.
climate change; photoinhibition; photosynthesis; shoot growth; temperature; vapour pressure deficit; water potential