June 13, 2010

For All the Tea in China, Sarah Rose

One Robert Fortune, a naturalist and explorer, went on two illegal trips into China to gather tea cuttings, seeds, and workers so that the East India Company could grow good tea in India and break China's monopoly. This required some subterfuge, although not as much as you'd think, as Fortune hired two servants who knew he was travelling illegally but didn't turn him in. It required more science, mostly the newish Wardian cases -- small greenhouses -- in which plants could survive transport by sail through inimical climes. People had been trying to collect global gardens for hundreds of years, but the Wardian case made it possible.

So the East India Company got stronger, China got even weaker, and cheap tea with milk and sugar powered the army and the manufactures of Great Britain, because boiled water with caffeine in it prevents diseases as well as beer and wine do, but leaves workers more effective. All of these are interesting stories, but I think I've read all the parts about everything but Fortune in better versions elsewhere, and one can read Fortune's memoirs themselves online. This is a smooth enough light summary if you're new to the story, but it's not particularly vivid. The discursive bibliography is interesting.

I was surprised to read that Chinese porcelain was packed to protect the tea shipments, and not the other way around; in a museum of the VOOC, the porcelain is buried in tea in tea-chests, but Rose says it lined the hull and provided some waterproofing.

Find in a library: For all the tea in China

Robert Fortune, Two visits to the tea countries of China and the British tea plantations in the Himalaya, available from the UHongKong libraries.

So wrote clew in History (19th c.).
And thus wrote others:
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