Monday, February 10, 2014

A Book about Stealing Tea!

Title: For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History
Author:  Sarah Rose
Date: 2011
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN:  0143118749

Tea and books - there is no better combination. Not even chocolate and peanut butter!  And this is a book about how tea got to be a British monopoly and the drink of choice for the British Empire.

Up until the first Opium War, the secrets of growing and processing tea was closely guarded by the Chinese Dynasties. But with the conquering of China in the war, many new trade cities were opened to the East India Company and paved the way for Scotsman Robert Fortune to engage in some industrial espionage and smuggle the tea plants and seeds of China into the fully conquered country of India and try to reproduce the conditions for tea growing and processing.  Not only did Fortune sneak into the interior of China twice to abscond with tea, he also had to figure a method of transporting thousands of plants and seeds across water and time without detriment.  Once in India, other gardeners took over the planting and tending the precious cargo and within a few decades, India became the main source of British tea.  This brief summary highlights none of the details included by the author that shows her in-depth research of Fortune’s journey and subterfuge.  

Much of the quotes from Fortune's time make me cringe with overt racism and discrimination against the conquered Chinese people.  Like most of the other conveniences of cheap modern life (such as sugar, cotton etc), the tea trade has been built on the subjugation of people and corporate greed.  However, the author highlights the enormity of the impact of Fortune’s theft and made me re-consider the origin of the drink I truly love.  Through out the book, I constantly remarked, like I do when watching How Its Made, “Hmmm… I never thought about how people came up with that idea.”  Modern tea plantations look idyllic and inviting, but the history is very complicated.

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