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Tea is the common name for a family of mostly woody flowering plants, and for one of its important genera. The tea plant itself is a native of Southeast Asia. The tea brewed from the dried leaves of this plant has been drunk in China since perhaps the 28th century BC and certainly since the 10th century BC, from which time written records of its use survive. It was first brought to Europe by the Dutch in the early 17th century AD. After the introduction of tea there in 1657, England became the only European country of tea drinkers rather than coffee drinkers. Tea was introduced into North America by early settlers but was heavily taxed by the British, eventually resulting in the well-known Boston Tea Party of 1773, and it has never competed successfully with coffee as the staple beverage. Tea is drunk by about half of the world's population; China, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Japan are the main producers.
Leaf buds and young leaves are used in making tea, the age of the leaves determining the taste and name of the particular commercial variety. Thus, orange pekoe is made from the youngest leaves, and souchong from the fourth leaves. After picking, the leaves either are dried immediately and completely to produce green teas - such as pan-fired, basket-fired, hyson, and gunpowder - or are partially dried and then allowed to ferment to produce various kinds of black teas, such as orange pekoe, pekoe, congou, and souchong. Oolong tea is partially fired and then steamed, thus being intermediate between green and black teas. After being sorted, all grades of tea are packed in foil-lined chests to prevent the absorption of unpleasant odors or the loss of aroma during shipment. In China, tea is sometimes allowed to absorb the scent from various flowers; jasmine is a particular favorite.