CAFFEINE is an odorless, slightly bitter, alkaloid chemical found in coffee beans, tea leaves, and kola nuts, and several other plants used by humans such as cacao (CHOCOLATE) and mate (a South American holly used as a popular drink). In small amounts, caffeine acts as a mild stimulant and is harmless to most people. In large amounts, however, caffeine can result in insomnia, restlessness, and cardiac irregularities.

Tea. Tea is the beverage made when the processed leaves of the TEA plant are infused with boiling water. Native to Southeast Asia, the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, is a small, shrub-like evergreen tree that belongs to the family Theaceae. The seeds of the tea plant contain a volatile oil, and its leaves contain the chemicals caffeine and tannin. Although second to coffee in commercial value, tea ranks first as the most often consumed beverage. More than 50 percent of the world's population drink some form of tea every day. Many also use tea medicinally, as a stimulant. The tea plant originated in the region encompassing Tibet, western China, and northern India. According to ancient Chinese legend, the emperor Shen-Nung learned how to brew the beverage in 2737 B.C., when a few leaves from the plant accidentally fell into water he was boiling. Tea leaves began to be processed in China (dried, smoked, fermented, pressed, etc.) and were sold in cakes of steamed leaves, as powder, or in leaf form. Tea was introduced by Chinese Buddhist monks into Japan (9th to 13th centuries), where the preparation and consumption of tea developed into the ritual tea ceremony called cha no yu. Tea culture then spread into Java, the Dutch East Indies, and other tropical and subtropical areas. British merchants formed the East India Company (1600-1858) and introduced teas from China and India into England, the American colonies, and throughout the British Empire.

Coffee. The COFFEE bean is the world's most valuable legal agricultural commodity. In 1982, for example, the coffee-importing bill for the United States alone was 2.537 billion dollars. Of the many varieties of the genus Coffea (family Rubiaceae) known to exist, only two species have significant commercial importance—C. arabica and C. robusta together constitute 99 percent of production. Coffee is native to the Ethiopian highlands and has been cultivated and brewed in Arab countries for centuries. The drink was introduced into Europe in the mid-seventeenth century and European colonial plantations were established in Indonesia, the West Indies, and Brazil, soon making coffee cultivation an important element in imperialist economies. Today, Latin America and Africa produce most of the world's coffee. The United States is the largest importer, having broken with the British tea tradition during the Revolutionary War to maintain the new American drink of coffee instead (purchased from non-British sources).

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