Camellia Sinensis: Tea Plant

The tea plant’s botanical name is Camellia sinensis and comes from the Theaceae family. It is native to many of the South Eastern Asian countries including Tibet, China, India, and Myanmar. Harvest tea, the plants are kept shrubby — about 1-5 feet — with a flat top. The terminal bud, the primary growing point located at the tip of the stem, and the top two leaves are harvested by hand every seven to fourteen days. The plant variety, size, age, part of the leaf, region, and processing all affect the final flavor and appearance of the tea, as do the essential oils found within the leaf and the tannins.

Typically it is the leaf of the tea plant that is used for creating the favorite beverage, tea. While no one is entirely certain of its exact origins, it is said to have either been discovered by Emperor Shen Nung in 2737 BC, when a leaf accidentally fell into water that was being boiled, or by a Buddhist priest in 519 AD.

, who is said to have vowed to spend seven years without sleep in contemplation of Buddha. After five years, he was (apparently) having difficulty staying awake and he grabbed leaves of a nearby bush to chew, these leaves just so happened to be tea leaves. At first, many of these plants were used as medicine by making infusions or teas with them.

The Buddhist priest Eisei brought tea to Japan, and it became trendy, it even elevated to an art form: the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

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The Japanese Tea Ceremony is symbolic of the Zen Buddhism concept that universal truths lie in simple tasks. There are individual rooms or teahouses for this ceremony; green tea is poured, whipped to a frothy consistency, and served from bowls. Around 850 AD the Arabs acquired the tea fascination, and it later arrived in Northern Europe around 1610 through trade. In the 1650s, tea finally reached England and quickly became a national beverage. Because of the impact, it had on trade throughout Europe and Asia; it led to the Opium War with China. The British exported opium which was grown in India and sold it to China. Using the profits from the drug, the British purchased Chinese luxury goods, like tea, which were in high demand in the West. By 1729, the Chinese began to smoke opium so much that their emperor prohibited the sale and smoking of it. That, however, did not hinder the trade. The level of opium addiction in China grew and grew until it began to affect the imperial troops and official classes. The efforts of the Qing dynasty to enforce opium restrictions resulted in two armed conflicts between China and the West, the Opium Wars (Opium Trade, 2018).

In 1650, tea appeared in the United States of America; it was costly at first, so only the rich had access to it. In 1767, the British Parliament passed the Townshend Acts which instituted taxes on various products imported into the British colonies in America. This caused much tension and protested that they were repealed in 1770, saving the duty on tea which was retained by Parliament to demonstrate its presumed right to raise colonial revenue without colonial approval. The merchants of Boston were able to get around this act by continuing to receive tea smuggled in by Dutch traders. In 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act designed to aid the East India Company and allow them to form a monopoly on all tea exported to the colonies, and this meant that the company could sell the drink at a less-than-usual price in either America or Britain and could undersell anyone else. Because of this, tea agents in many major cities resigned or canceled orders, and merchants refused consignments. The governor of Boston, however, upheld the law and allowed three arriving ships to deposit their cargoes and that their duties should be honored. On December 16, 1773, a group of 60 men boarded these ships and dumped the tea chests, valued at about $20,500, into the water. In retaliation, Parliament passed a series of acts called the Intolerable Acts, including one to shut off Boston’s sea trade until they paid for the destroyed tea (Boston Tea Party, 2018). This was a significant milestone that led to the Revolutionary War in 1775.

The story of coffee is much different. The term coffee arabica is the botanical term for coffee, and it comes from the Rubiaceae, two other species of coffee that are cultivated as well. The fruit coffee comes from is a berry but is called a cherry. There typically are two seeds per fruit. Coffee is native to Ethiopia, and legend says that a goat herb found that he-goats were frisky and full of energy after eating something. After following his goats, he discovered what plant this fruit came from, and he tried some himself and enjoyed the stimulating effect. Initially, the berries were eaten whole but later became crushed and mixed with far instead. The roasting of these seeds began in 13th century Yemen. One coffee plant typically yields 5.5-6.6 pounds of berries per year. Roasting these berries changes the flavor by releasing essential oils and caramelizing sugars. (The History of Coffee)

Coffee was initially only grown in North Africa and the Middle East. The Dutch brought coffee to Southeast Asia, and, along with the Portuguese, also brought coffee to the New World. Now, 44% of coffee plantations are found in Latin America. By 1500, coffee was widely cultivated and spread rapidly throughout the Arabian world. Coffeehouses were established to accommodate the spreading habit and social aspects, but these were very controversial, many religious and political leaders were against them. They thought coffeehouses produced evil and dangerous effects, so many leaders tried to ban them. After public outcry, leaders revoked these bans and allowed coffeehouses to carry on. They became centers for commerce, arts, intellectual discussions, and political debates. Coffeehouses eventually became close to what it is today by being a meeting place for business people and merchants and less a place for intellectual discussion. In the 1960s, they became a focal point of political thought and folk music. (The History of Coffee)

Coffee has become one of the most widely traded commodities. Fair Trade coffee began in Europe in the 1960s; this is coffee that is certified as having been produced to fair trade standards. The coffee trade is worth 10 billion dollars per year, but many smaller farmers get less for their coffee than the production costs, about 25-50 cents per pound (Scott, 2015).

The effects that coffee and tea have had on society are both similar and different. They both began as a trade items, connecting people around the world. Both coffee and tea have caused political uprises and created controversy politically. Considering this, however, coffee did not affect society as violently as tea. Because of tea, major wars were started and much unrest. Coffee did cause some disorder against political figures, but it did not result in a war that shaped the world into what it is today (i.e., the Revolutionary War).


  1. (9 December 2018). “Boston Tea Party.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from
  2. (3 January 2018) “Opium Trade.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from
  3. “The History of Coffee” (n.d) National Coffee Association. Retrieved from
  4. Scott. (20 August 2015) “The History of Coffee Houses.” Driftaway Coffee. Retrieved from

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Camellia Sinensis: Tea Plant. (2022, Aug 19). Retrieved from

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