By Kimberly Richardson
[singlepic id=296 w=320 h=240 float=left]Tea is considered the second most popular beverage in the world after water. In today’s world, the choices are endless. You can have black tea, red tea or rooibos, the sacred but still satisfying white tea, and even the popular green tea almost anywhere. Tea companies now create blended flavors to satisfy even the most discriminating of palates. Even iced tea has come a long way in its chic. Yet, tea has a dirty, murderous, and unsavory history, one that not too many people know about while reading their history books in school. Sarah Rose, author of the book All The Tea In China: How England Stole the World’s Favourite Drink and Changed History, sheds some light on this past for all to see and perhaps appreciate their morning cup of Earl Grey a little more. Within the pages of this slim book is the story of a Scottish botanist named Robert Fortune and his tale of how he both initially unsuccessfully and finally successfully shipped camellia sinensis from China to his beloved England amid opium wars, backhanded deals, and growing tensions between England, China, and India through the highly powerful East India Company. It is a story of how one man braved the highly stacked odds to give his fellow Brits a taste of the East through a cuppa’.
As a journalist, Rose adds her own appreciation for the East by making her work not only a book about the history of tea but also a book of traveling to exotic lands. One feels as though they are standing next to Fortune and his Chinese assistants as they travel deeper into the heart of China in search of rare tea specimens for the glory of England. One can smell the breezes scented with fragrant flowers only found in China as well as the scent of unwashed, opium soaked bodies blended with mud and blood from the sick and dying. Rose also does a thorough job in showing the readers the tensions between the British and everyone else. The British viewed themselves as the top of the evolutionary chain amid the “savages” of India and China, though the Chinese had a far superior civilization, philosophy, and way of life, as well as the material goods that the British so desperately wanted. The Chinese mirrored Britain’s contempt by lacing their shipped out green tea with a poison that made the tea appear green for its British customers. This is why the British drink more black than green tea even today. After the Boston Tea Party, the Americans even wanted a part of the tea craze, but due to mitigating circumstances they remained far behind everyone else in the mad dash to China and later India and in the creation of Darjeeling teas, considered to be the “champagne” of all teas (and it is!).
This is not just a history book but also a travel guide to the past that gives us a peek into a world that thankfully no longer exists. Thanks to Rose, I now understand the importance of the Silver Needle White tea that I drink on a daily basis and why the craze for all things tea has surged again with the Americans now leading the race. Thanks to men like Robert Fortune, people can now have their cup of Darjeeling without fear of war but rather with a newfound respect for the leaves that assist them in reaching their liquid paradise.