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

Sarah Rose
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 April 2010

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.

Frequently Bought Together

For All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite Drink + Tea: A History of the Drink That Changed the World + A Brief History of Tea (Brief Histories)
Price For All Three: 23.97

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow (1 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009949342X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099493426
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 104,074 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"The best parts of the book are not the dangers that Fortune encountered, but Rose's assured, confident descriptions of the manufacture of tea. Like Fortune, the reader goes on a journey of discovery" (Mail on Sunday)

"Had your cup of tea this morning? If not, the next time you take a gulp of PG Tips or a sip of single estate orange pekoe you might want to send up a prayer of thanks for the dogged Scotsman who made it all possible, Robert Fortune ... Rose's account is full of colour" (The Times)

"[Fortune's] story is well worth the telling, and Rose does so with skill and restraint" (Literary Review)

"Reshapes into gripping prose Fortune's own memoirs and letters ... An enthusiastic tale of how the humble leaf became a global addiction" (Financial Times)

"Reveals our cuppa wouldn't exist if it wasn't for an amazing Victorian, armed only with a rusty pistol and a pigtail, who stole the secret of tea from under the nose of China's ruthless warlords" (Daily Mail)


Reshapes into gripping prose Fortune's own memoirs and letters ... An enthusiastic tale of how the humble leaf became a global addiction --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History Made Fun! 5 Jun 2009
Sarah Rose's Book "For All the Tea in China" is a must-read. It's a wonderful, entertaining ride into a lesser known chapter of history- how the British smuggled tea leaves out of China. The writing is superb and it's a true page-turner. It made me feel like a kid again when I used to love reading great, fun classic adventure stories like "Gulliver's Travels" or "Around the World in Eighty Days." I hadn't found myself this excited abut reading a book in a while, plus so many modern day parallels make Robert Fortune's world and the days of Industrialization and the Victorian Age seem not so very far away at all. I highly recommend this book as a great, fun, fascinating summer read!
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent debut 20 April 2009
Elegant, erudite, and entertaining, Sarah Rose's book is a wonderful evocation of a distant era of British colonialism, exploration, and intrigue. The discovery of the Chinese secret of tea cultivation by explorer and spy Robert Fortune (what an apropos name!) becomes, in Rose's skillful telling, more than a forgotten page from a dusty history book--it serves as a striking reminder of globalization's centuries-old roots. Sit down, pour yourself a cup of Earl Grey, and enjoy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading for lovers of tea 30 May 2009
By Jen K
All tea drinkers should read this book, which is the story of Robert Fortune. Don't know him? If you love tea, you should. You have Robert to thank for getting it into your hands. He went deep into China as a spy for the British empire, and sent back the live plants, seeds, and secrets that would introduce tea growing to India (then a part of the empire), reducing the prices and increasing the quality and quantity available to tea drinkers. Sarah's account of Robert Fortune's story is imaginative yet based in facts gleaned from historic documents. The story paints a clear picture of the danger Fortune faced in his service, a quest that paid off not only in access to tea, but in prestige for Fortune as well. The young botanist/naturalist was able to make a name for himself through his explorations. Right now this book is only available on Amazon UK, but I was able to get it for $25 or so shipped, which is about the same as you'd pay for a hardcover book anyway. Worth reading!
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For all the tea in China 5 Sep 2009
WOW, what an excellent read!

Here is a story hung on a skeleton of facts about how tea was stolen from China by Robert Fortune during the early part of the 19 century working on behalf of the `Honourable Company'. It is about the trials and tribulations experienced by him and others in their efforts to send and keep alive; samples, cuttings and seeds of quality tea shrubs and send them to India; it's about how Victorian ingenuity circumnavigated the many challenges that beset this task and how Fortune discovered how the Chinese grew, processed and made tea (black and green teas are a result of the processing, not from different plants). How the story of tea resulted in a major contribution to the growth and development of the British Empire and how its work force was slowly but surely weaned off other more popular drinks often based on alcohol.

It places the story within the wider context of world trade and economic thuggery played by Britain. There are uncomfortable moments when one realises that the skills and attributes that led to those outstanding achievements, which contributed towards the `sun never setting on the British Empire' were also the same attributes that were involved in cultural abuse, economic exploitation and the Honourable Companies trade monopoly.

Yes, there are some factual errors and hints of misunderstanding, but no one could undertake a challenge as wide and encompassing as `tea' and hit every target spot on, but this story is well written and interesting and would make a superb historical film. If only we had been taught history like this during my era!

This little gem of a book is exceptionally well researched and presented in a style that is immediately accessible to all.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tea-Big Finance and Empire Building 22 April 2009
Dr Terry Jones (Cheshire/UK) 22 April 2009

For all the tea in China

Sarah Rose

The is an adventure story where one remains on the edge of one's seat will he make it especially after the first attempt to smuggle tea plants out of China failed because of lack of care of the plants.

One learns so much from the book. Yes part of the British Empire was based on drugs, the coolie slave trade, the fascination the Victorians had with exotic plants and the science therein especially if they could be turned into a cash crop. Above all the importance of tea to the British economy, not least because it diverted the populous away from drinking beer as a way of avoiding bacteria loaded water, since boiling water for tea did the same anti bacterial job. Coupling tea with sugar gave the British worker the instant energy buzz needed for operating the industrial revolution and boosted the sugar trade to boot. Hence the dilemma, what if the Chinese became self supporting in opium production thereby leaving no immediate product for the British to trade tea for. Hence grow ones own tea was the solution and hence the need to steal the very best plants from China. Key to success was the Ward glass case for safely transporting plants and germinating seedlings.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Story
I couldn't believe the story when I read it, such an amazing history.

Sarah Rose does a great job with creating a fast moving writing style, almost a novel as much of an... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mr. Andrew M. Gillooly
4.0 out of 5 stars A little more on Chinese history
Reading this book and its fascinating facts and then the book on Timothy Richard "Tim China" Tim Chinafills in an important gap in in the knowledge of an emerging China in the late... Read more
Published 6 months ago by David H Chambers
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book, so interesting.
This book was lent to me by a friend, but I wanted a copy of my own
to read again and hopefully to lend to friends.
Published 7 months ago by Alemap
5.0 out of 5 stars A fun read!
I really enjoyed reading this book. It is kind of a quirky topic, but that's what makes it fun. I'm not even a tea drinker, but after reading this book I think I will drink a cup... Read more
Published 7 months ago by R Helen
5.0 out of 5 stars Really enjoyable read!
If you're at all interested in the history of your cup of tea - read this entertaining and fascinating book
Published 8 months ago by The Kandula Tea Company Ltd
3.0 out of 5 stars More biography than general history
In some ways it is impossible not to like this book. It moves along at a fast pace and is full of adventure, human interest and fascinating facts, all tied together with some... Read more
Published 10 months ago by A. Byrnes
5.0 out of 5 stars A Well Received Gift
Any tea drinker will be interested to read about the original, political repercussions and social history of their favourite brew.
Published 13 months ago by glimbo123
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating true story of the beginnings of tea growing in India
I was given a copy of this book as a birthday present and I really could not put it down. I have always loved history and also enjoy gardening. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Katharine M. Earlam
1.0 out of 5 stars Rubbish
This isn't a history book. It's an amalgam of inaccuracies and errors. Frankly I couldn't finish it. In fact I didn't really get very far. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Miran Ali
4.0 out of 5 stars A good brew
This book takes many of my favourite subjects - botany, espionage, tea - and blends them in a compelling brew. Read more
Published 20 months ago by DrLMK
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