Someone who came into the teaworld, shook it, caused the existing tea world to collapse and new tea worlds to arise leading to cheap tea and teabags. Okay let us not blame him for the teabag and to be fair new excellent and unequaled teas did arise as a consequence of his actions.
Of whom I speak? Do I really have to give his name? Robert Fortune of course. He went into China, took tea and tea knowledge out of it. Caused the serious birth of tea production in India, replacing China as the most important tea-export country. This caused the China tea business to collapse and a lot of tea gardens to be closed and forgotten. The hunt for cheaper tea and more control over tea production in the end led to dust to fill the bag. On the other hand the excellent terroir of the Himalayas also led to First Flush teas that are hyped and loved in the current season.
One book about the travels of Robert Fortune is “For all the tea in China” by Sarah Rose. This book has been reviewed many times by now so I will just say what I have to say about it. For details conveniently left out of the book I have to refer to @robertfortune.
For those that can’t remember the story or just can’t get enough of it I start with a very short version.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century the British East India Company (EIC) had a monopoly on the tea trade from China to England. Unfortunately for them, but luckily for tea drinking Britain times and laws changed opening up the China tea market to other companies.
So the EIC had to look for ways to ensure having enough cash cows in the future. One of the things they tried was the production of tea in an area they controlled: India. However low quality seeds and plants and a lack of knowledge about tea production ensured the failure of these attempts. So they send people to China to buy proper seeds and plants and to convince teamakers to come to India and teach the process. This in a time when foreigners were not allowed into China and the tea secrets were heavily guarded. Unfortunately the hunters that came back alive came back with inferior material and people that knew just a little about tea production and were unwilling to teach even that bit.
So came Robert Fortunes turn to boldly go where others had failed before. Before Robert was hired by the EIC he had already been at the other side of the border of China to collect plants, but not tea. So he new something of what to expect. Now he made two trips into China. One to find Green tea plants, seeds and production knowledge. The other to find the same for black tea. Although the first trip was a success on itself the result was a failure, thanks to the “competent” people in India. The second trip and his work in India afterwards were successful enough to jump-start the Indian tea production, changing the teaworld forever.
The book itself is easy and light to read, sometimes too light for my taste. She gives a short version of his adventures on these two trips. She connects his discoveries, circumstances and happenings with the later and current situation. Thus providing context and new knowledge to his travels. However the fact that she thinks the Dutch are still drug pushers speaks of a total misunderstanding of our laws and trade (Now take some, resistance is futile)(*).
Something that I did not like was that she does not tell what happens after a story that ends in a not so good situation. This leaves multiple unresolved cliffhangers. I guess I will have to read the books of Robert Fortune himself to resolve these.
All by all it was a nice book to read and expanded my knowledge of the history of China, India and of course tea. Wanting to learn more I pushed the books of Robert Fortune a few places up on my wish list.
(*) Of course the only drug allowed is tea.
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