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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History Made Fun!
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...
Published on 5 Jun. 2009 by T. Walliser

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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 good old fashioned story telling.

If your taste runs to having a hero with whom to identify, this book may attract you. The chief protagonist is Robert Fortune, who went to China to...
Published 21 months ago by A. Byrnes


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History Made Fun!, 5 Jun. 2009
By 
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading for lovers of tea, 30 May 2009
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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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent debut, 20 April 2009
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More biography than general history, 23 Sept. 2013
By 
A. Byrnes "Andie" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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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 good old fashioned story telling.

If your taste runs to having a hero with whom to identify, this book may attract you. The chief protagonist is Robert Fortune, who went to China to steal both the raw materials of tea production and the secrets to turn seeds and plants into the product that China had perfected over generations and kept a secret from a Western world that consumed it in ever increasing quantities. He is supported by a host of minor characters, all of whom either enabled Fortune or impeded his ambitions.

Personally, I found the personal aspects of Robert Fortunes life a bit tedious, and there's a lot of space devoted to them. Sarah Rose talks about his early life, his disadvantaged background, the forbearance and household management skills of his supportive wife, his various expeditions, working relationships and and conversations, and the various strengths and failings that Fortune had in his dealings with the Chinese. Although the author obviously set out to write the story of an interesting man, I found him less than enticing.

For me the strenghs of this book lie in Sarah Rose's gift for summarizing the key aspects of the historical and economic context that gave Fortune his raison d'etre and her ability to weave in relevant historical facts, Her descriptions of the East India Company and the Opium Wars, the economic value of Chinese tea to Colonial India, and the Enfield rifle grease that contributed to ending Indian rule are really excellent. In a sense, it was the background scenery rather than the portrait that I found most gripping.

The background details are terrific - for example, the fact that to dabble in botany one was really expected to have a medical qualification was news to me. I had no idea that the term "face" (as in loss of) was a concept originally from China, where it was of fundamental social importance. I had had no idea that black tea and green tea were thought to be, before Fortune disabused the world of the notion, two separate types of plant. And I knew nothing about Wardian cases and their value in the international plant trade. All great stuff.

You do learn quite a bit about tea from this book, although not as much as I was expecting. For me a this was a good thing as I bought it to learn the basics about the trade in tea, not the tea itself and I was rather dreaded being dragged into the esoteric world of tea houses and tea ceremonies. This is a book about trade, economics, botany and adventure, not about Chinese cultural perceptions of tea or the associated traditions. If you are looking for details on Chinese cultural tea traditions, this is not the book for you.

The book seems well researched, with a list of sources at the end. Rose quite rightly relies heavily on Fortune's own published writings, but has done a lot of work on the worlds within which Fortune operated.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For all the tea in China, 5 Sept. 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. The author's extensive knowledge and experiences clearly jump out at the reader from every page. Setting scenes of a mountainous China; hospitable monks; river pirates, chiselling interpreters; bandits; druggies, but always with one eye open to plant collection and the ultimate goal acquiring tea plants. You can almost taste the tea straight off the page. Who ever said book are dead, was wrong.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tea-Big Finance and Empire Building, 22 April 2009
By 
T. Jones - See all my reviews
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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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4.0 out of 5 stars How tea came to Britain - stolen from the Chinese !, 19 Mar. 2015
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Robert Fortune (1813-1880) was born in Kelloe, Berwickshire, and in 1842 was sent to China by the Royal Horticultural Society to collect plants. He is probably best known for introducing Chinese tea plants to the Darjeeling region of India. Most of the initial batch of plants died, but a second expedition was successful, and the knowledge gained was instrumental in the later development of the Indian tea industry.

This new book is the only modern biography of Fortune, drawing on his own works, his official correspondence with his employers, the East India Company, and other papers. It places his botany in a wider context, describing his acquisition of Chinese tea plants and expertise for India as “the greatest theft of trade secrets in the history of mankind”.

The author also argues that “tea exemplifies the grand theory of empire ; it could create a new class of consumers for British products while simultaneously expanding access to foreign products for Britons”. Equally, she identifies how it led to developments in shipping techniques ; changes in manufacturing, for example of porcelain ; and improvements in public health in Britain due to the growth of tea drinking.

In terms of Fortune himself, the book adds a little detail, but suffers from the complete lack of any private papers. What archives might have existed were burnt by his wife after his death, for reasons that remain unclear. Nevertheless, 'For all the tea in China' is an enjoyable and easy read about a fascinating Scottish connection with the country.

See also my review of 'Three Years Wanderings...', Fortune's own book of his time in China.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A good brew, 14 Nov. 2012
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This book takes many of my favourite subjects - botany, espionage, tea - and blends them in a compelling brew. I will never look at a cup of tea in the same way since reading 'For All the Tea in China' and considering that I drink about 7 cups of China tea everyday that's quite an accomplishment on the author's part.

Starting with a skirmish at sea as the hero of our tale, plant hunter Robert Fortune, single-handedly fights off a pirate fleet, the narrative takes on the pace and feel of a film script. The reader follows Fortune as he is engaged by the East India Company to track down China's trade secrets of tea: tea plants, how they grow, where they grow, how tea is picked, processed, and brewed. It's a tale of industrial espionage, science and botany, managerial mess-ups, empire, trade, and tea. The East India Company wanted to take the secrets of tea out of China and establish tea estates in the British-Indian Himalayas so as to break China's strangehold on the tea trade. The market for tea was just opening up in Britain at the time and whoever controlled its trade stood to make a lot of money.

I learned so much from this book, such as the fact that many Britons drank green tea that was actually green, because the Chinese put blue and yellow dye into the blend in the belief that this was what the Western market desired. These dyes were toxic and so were poisoning British tea drinkers. Robert Fortune was the first Westerner to discover this fact when, posing as an important Mandarin Chinamen, he gained access to a tea factory and noticed that all the workers' hands were blue. When he brought this fact to the attention of the British public and government, it brought about a change in public taste so that Britons wanted black, not green, tea.

The heart of this book is in the middle chapters where Fortune reaches the unknown interior of China, forbidden territory to foreigners, a beautiful mountainous region where tea is grown and processed. Here he relies on the hospitality of strangers - ordinary families or monks - as he goes about collecting plants, cuttings and seeds, and learns the mysterious culture surrounding tea production.

This is not just popular history but a good story, told well. The reader becomes engrossed in the fate of Robert Fortune, and his precious plants, and learns a lot along the way.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and True Boy's Own Adventure Story!, 5 July 2011
In its way, I found this book as fascinating and educational as I did Dava Sobel's "Longitude". Hats off to Sarah Rose for having unearthed such an amazing, and pretty much unknown (by the general tea-drinking public), story of how the British came to be the world's greatest tea power. The real life adventures of Robert Fortune, the man employed by the East India Company to steal China's best tea and its tea secrets, could not be improved on by the greatest of modern adventure fiction writers. His trips, for months at a time, deep into unknown China, at a time when foreigners simply did not travel outside a few major cities, with all the dangers that entailed, are thrilling to read. This was an era when China fiercely guarded its tea industry, and yet Fortune not only was required to steal the best tea, and tea-growing/making techniques, but to transport sufficiently large quantities of the stolen booty half way across the world, and in a still viable state, to be able to start a brand new industry in India! It's not giving much away to say that he succeeded, but how he did so is remarkable. Sarah Rose writes beautifully (and you can forgive the few errors such as calculating the modern pound to dollar exchange rate in some examples as 2:1 instead of 1:2), and captivated this reader from start to finish. Highly recommended.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Not a good read, 4 Feb. 2015
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This review is from: For All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite Drink (Kindle Edition)
This is not for me, it is a tedious story badly and repetitively told. If this sentence grates with you as much as it did with me then this book is not for you either: "The Chelsea Physic Garden nestles in a posh part of London, close to Sloane Square". This is the style of the writing. Another example: the author goes into intricate detail about the protagonist having his front hair shaved to appear to be Chinese but does not seem to know that the Chinese hairstyle of a "queue" is a long tail of hair, queue being French for tail, so she seems to think the local children were looking for a tail on the foreigner, not a long plait of hair. To me this book is not a good read.
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