Extreme shifts in water availability linked to global climate change are impacting crops worldwide. The present study examines the direct and interactive effects of water availability and pest pressures on tea (Camellia sinensis; Theaceae) growth and functional quality. Manipulative greenhouse experiments were used to measure the effects of variable water availability and pest pressures simulated by jasmonic acid (JA) on tea leaf growth and secondary metabolites that determine tea quality. Water treatments were simulated to replicate ideal tea growing conditions and extreme precipitation events in tropical southwestern China, a major centre of tea production. Results show that higher water availability and JA significantly increased the growth of new leaves while their interactive effect was not significant. The effect of water availability and JA on tea quality varied with individual secondary metabolites. Higher water availability significantly increased total methylxanthine concentrations of tea leaves but there was no significant effect of JA treatments or the interaction of water and JA. Water availability, JA treatments or their interactive effects had no effect on the concentrations of epigallocatechin 3-gallate. In contrast, increased water availability resulted in significantly lower concentrations of epicatechin 3-gallate but the effect of JA and the interactive effects of water and JA were not significant. Lastly, higher water availability resulted in significantly higher total phenolic concentrations but there was no significant impact of JA and their interaction. These findings point to the fascinating dynamics of climate change effects on tea plants with offsetting interactions between precipitation and pest pressures within agro-ecosystems, and the need for future climate studies to examine interactive biotic and abiotic effects. © 2014 Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Annals of Botany Company.