While many of us sip on a bit of Earl Grey with a swirl of honey with our morning scone, others of us inundate the brewed goodness of green tea with ice and lemon. Regardless of how we imbibe our tea or savor the complex tastes, we likely don't consider how it got to our pots, cups, and glasses. For All the Tea in China is a journey from England to China and back, chronicling the years that Robert Fortune spent hunting for tea plants in the nether regions of the East.
It wasn't in the locating of the tea plants that made Fortune famous. It was his acquiring the skill to grow and harvest the tea especially considering its brutally long journey from China to India and finally to arrive in England in a usable condition. We often take for granted time in our 21st century world of instantaneous gratification, so to even postulate on the process involved in sending seeds and plants from China to England via ship is strange at best. However, with Fortune's ability to challenge accepted, standard methods of shipping plants, tea was able to arrive in tact, ready to germinate and be further propagated. His work for the East India Company was invaluable, for sure.
Sarah Rose's style of writing tells the story of Robert Fortune rather than spews the facts related to bringing tea to England. There are even some nice side stories such as the one related to technologically advanced (for the time) weaponry used in India using only beef or pig fat for greasing the chambers. (Consider the two main religions of India and how this might be perceived...)
Listen to the serialized BBC version or check KPL's copy on CD.
I've moved on to reading Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky which is not at all as delightfully told but still full of amazing trivia and facts that we often take for granted as we sprinkle our fries gently with little granules of goodness. Regardless of the style of the book, I always find non-fiction of this sort an amazing way to sprout my knowledge of the historical and contemporary world.
For All the Tea in China