The history of tea

Welcome to the story of tea – how one humble leaf became the world’s second most popular beverage, discovered by accident 4000 years ago.

Our much loved humble tea bag has a rich, complex story – as do the hundreds of varieties still enjoyed across the globe today. The processes have remained largely unchanged, except for mechanisation. But, those moments with friends and family shared over a cuppa are more precious than ever.


The mythical first cuppa has brewed a fair few tales.

One legend goes something like this: around 2700 BC, Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, a renowned herbalist, was meditating under a tree while waiting for his billy to boil.

Without Shen noticing, a couple of leaves from a nearby shrub blew into the water. When Shen tasted the resulting brew, he was pleasantly surprised and amazed by the delightful new taste – and our much loved cup of tea was born.

The Chinese have enjoyed a tasty cuppa since for tens of thousands of years – with the Han Dynasty Emperors enjoying a brew in the 10th century BC. The Japanese then joined them in the sixth century AD, as tea became a beverage of choice for priests.

tasting tea in Ancient China

1725 English Family at Tea possibly by Richard Collins, England, d. 1732
1725 English Family at Tea possibly by Richard Collins, England, d. 1732


Marco Polo was the first to tell Europe about this ancient tradition, as did The Dutch East India Company who first brought tea to Amsterdam from China in the 17th century.

In the 1600s tea become the height of fashion in Paris, a trend which the Russians followed – importing leaves on the backs of camels, travelling as hundreds of caravans from China.

Ironically, the English began their love affair with tea in London’s coffeehouses – offered as a new alternative. Quickly the empire wanted to grow their own leaves, establishing plantations in India, to rival China’s monopoly – and become the world’s top producer for nearly a century.


Aboriginal Australians have infused leaves from the ‘ti tree’ for hundreds of years – although a different plant to the traditional ‘tea’ species of camellia sinensis. With British colonisation of Australia came tea culture – arriving on board the First Fleet of 1788.

But, while we enjoy a morning, afternoon or evening tea just like the Brits, us Aussies have the luxury of teas blended for Australian tastes – like Bushells.

Our founder Alfred ‘the Tea Man’ Bushell was Australia’s first tea entrepreneur, opening his first shop in present-day Queensland 125 years ago. His sons expanded the business to Sydney soon after, to found Australia’s first ever commercial tea seller – Bushell’s Company – which created tea especially for Aussie tastes.

Even then, he knew was onto something: today tea is the world’s second most popular beverage, second only to water – and us Aussies drink 22 million cups a day!

Think that deserves a good Bushells cuppa.

Learn more about the history of Bushells >>

The first Bushells family grocery store