3 min read

Book: For All the Tea in China

I’m pretty excited to review another book! It’s taken me a while to get through this one because of outside pressures and obligations, but it’s a real page turner, especially for a history book!

I was aided in my reading by this book being one of my first on my iPad which I picked up in an attempt to help me move my library from being physical and heavy to even more extensive and no heavier than my reading device!

I was amazed at the amount of detail which was presented in this book. I was treated to a realist view of how the tea plant came to be so widely appreciated by the western world. Its instrumental pieces, discoveries and inventions necessary even for simply transport are astounding! 

Quick Info

Rating 5/5
Title For All the Tea in China
Publisher Viking Adult /
Penguin Group
Author Sarah Rose
Pages 272
Price $12.99 USD (iBooks)
$15.00 USD (Amazon)

Our story starts with basic coverage of the botanical revolution taking place in England in the early 1800’s. Prior to this point, few people kept gardens or had plants of any sort growing in their homes. Generally, even the rich didn’t have much more than shrubs or trees and almost all of those tended to be domestic plants. Nothing of foreign growth such as lilacs, bonsai or bamboo.

It’s easy to get lost with this beautiful story of industrial and economic espionage. You’d be remiss if you didn’t ask yourself whether this was a work of fiction. It certainly reads like one. Only, it isn’t.

Robert Fortune found himself in the employ of The East India Company. Literally blessed by the Royal House with the right to create and manage colonies wherever they should see fit, The East India Company had taking something of a liking to Asia. Untold riches were to be made in silks, antiquities and tea.
The problem was that the western world didn’t control any of these things. Even after the Opium Wars, Britain only had access to restricted areas within large cities. They weren’t permitted to venture out.
While some successes had been made in cataloguing interesting variants of plants based on what they’d found in markets, everyone in the botanical world knew China had to have all sorts of things hidden away which no one was permitted to see.

A rather interesting plan was concocted to dress Robert Fortune in traditional clothing of a wealthy Mandarin and travel the whole of China for the purpose of collecting tea plants and production methods and send them to India for cultivation. The plan worked!

Robert Fortune shrewdly worked out the international ownership rights to any and all plants not used for tea production. When this whole thing started, it was a generally accepted assumption that teas came from different plants. Black from one, green from another, etc. Robert Fortune helped to dispell this myth which he had initially subscribed to, but which the Chinese helped show him was wrong.

True to what we may understand of Chinese erroneous production methods for other products today, it turned out the Chinese had been including harmful chemical dyes with the green tea they shipped because the western world wanted their green teas to actually be green. A practice thank goodness which is no longer followed.

It was the botanical revolution and tea which helped to inspire and encourage the early use of an item called a wardian case which was used to transport plant seeds safely across the seas. Without these cases the salt in the air alone would destroy the virility of the seeds making them unusable once they reached their destination.

The invention of greenhouses was also early in this period and without them, trasport of the live plants from China to India and other locales would not have been possible.

There’s so much knowledge, history, intrigue, deception, espionage, adventure and discovery in this book I would hate to spoil it for you. Instead, I suggest you pick up a copy. I have helpful links to Amazon and to Apple’s iBooks store for you to use if you’d like.

I hope you are as captivated and enthralled by this book as I was. Sarah Rose has really put together a very special work which doesn’t feel like a dry history book at all. Instead it reads very much like a novel, and it engages every facet of the imagination as you read through it.

Help a good cause: CharityWater.org