Until the 3rd century AD, under the Han Dynasty (AD 206 -220) the Chinese drank tea as a medicinal tonic brew made from the freshly gathered leaves of the wild tea tree. For the next 700 or so years, the plucked leaves were steamed and then compressed into tightly packed cakes of different forms which could be easily stored or transported with minimum damage. To brew tea from these cakes, the brick or cake was roasted and then chopped or crushed, and steeped or boiled in hot water. The infusion was then often flavoured with sweet onions, salt, ginger, orange peel, cloves and mint.
The Tealover’s Companion – Jane Pettigrew & Bruce Richardson