The leaves of the small shrub, Camellia sinensis, have been used to make tea for thousands of years. Tea originated in China – connoisseurs during the Tang Dynasty (618–906AD) crushed steamed and bound-together leaves to make a sort of tea powder that was then mixed with a variety of flavourings.

Sung Dynasty (960–1279AD) tea drinkers whipped ground tea into hot water until it was frothy, which sounds rather like an incredibly early tea cappuccino. It was not until the Middle Ages that tea drinkers in China (1368–1644AD) developed tea as we know it today. Steamed leaves were dried, added loose to water and then left to steep, before being poured into white porcelain cups to display its colour. Drying the leaves allowed the tea to oxidise toa coppery red colour and made it easier to store while preserving its essential characteristics. It also meant that it was fit to travel to other countries.

Although tea drinking has become inextricably linked with the English, it was in fact introduced to Europe by Portuguese and Dutch traders in the early seventeenth century. Tea had reached London by 1658, although it took the marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza (a Portuguese princess) to make it wildly fashionable.

(Copyright: Australian Science Teachers Association 2021, except where indicated otherwise. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.)