- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Arrow (1 April 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 009949342X
- ISBN-13: 978-0099493426
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.8 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 65 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 92,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
For All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite Drink Paperback – 1 Apr 2010
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"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)
In the 1850s, stealing the secret of China tea was like stealing the secret formula for Coca-ColaSee all Product description
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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.
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.
However, the book would have benefitted from more careful editing. It is a bit repetitive in parts and as a chemist I picked up on a dreadful howler about gypsum, which I will jot down in a comment. I suspect specialists in other fields would spot other mistakes. However, that said it is still well worth a read.
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