For All the Tea in China : Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite Drink, Paperback Book

For All the Tea in China : Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite Drink Paperback

4.5 out of 5 (1 rating)


Robert Fortune was a Scottish gardener, botanist, plant hunter - and industrial spy.

In 1848, the East India Company engaged him to make a clandestine trip into the interior of China - territory forbidden to foreigners - to steal the closely guarded secrets of tea.

For centuries, China had been the world's sole tea manufacturer.

Britain purchased this fuel for its Empire by trading opium to the Chinese - a poisonous relationship Britain fought two destructive wars to sustain.

The East India Company had profited lavishly as the middleman, but now it was sinking, having lost its monopoly to trade tea.

Its salvation, it thought, was to establish its own plantations in the Himalayas of British India.

There were just two problems: India had no tea plants worth growing, and the company wouldn't have known what to do with them if it had.

Hence Robert Fortune's daring trip. The Chinese interior was off-limits and virtually unknown to the West, but that's where the finest tea was grown - the richest oolongs, soochongs and pekoes. And the Emperor aimed to keep it that way.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Cornerstone
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Asian history
  • ISBN: 9780099493426

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This interesting book discussed how a Scottish botanist made his fortune by stealing the secret of tea from Imperial China. A pleasant and well-balanced mixture of biography, historical background, botany, cultural discussion and informed speculation. It's well-judged for a lay audience, fairly light and easy to read without being fluffy; Rose Touches on the relationship of tea to issues like the opium wars, the end of the EIC and the changes that brought about, health and culture, and economic balance across the Empire. Note that it is based only on company and public records and the writings of others, as none of his own papers survived. Of course, there was the usual guilt stirred up by any book dealing with British history, and anger at some of the injustices that were inflicted.A few reviews I've seen complained of a lack of detail, particularly in terms of Fortune's actual adventures in China, his encounters with the locals and with officialdom, and his views on all he encountered; the problem is, as far as I can see, that there isn't really much Rose could add. The only record of what Fortune did or said is his own book on his travels, since all his papers were destroyed after his death, and it seems to me there is little point Rose simply repeating his words, padding out a perfectly-sized book, when she's already directed us to the source.I was very impressed with the book, and sad to see it's her only one so far.