Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite Drink
In the 1850s, stealing the secret of China tea was like stealing the secret formula for Coca-Cola
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.
“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”
“[Fortune's] story is well worth the telling, and Rose does so with skill and restraint”
“Reshapes into gripping prose Fortune's own memoirs and letters ... An enthusiastic tale of how the humble leaf became a global addiction”
“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”
“A compelling sketch of the world of globalisation before instant information, and transforms a modest Scottish botanist into a swashbuckling pirate capitalist, who incidentally changed the way we all have breakfast ... A genuinely curious and evocative yarn ”
Scotland on Sunday
“Sarah Rose tells a stirring tale of individual derring-do and the fate of the nations.”
Waterstone's Books Quarterly
“It's an amusing tale... I was fascinated”
“This will ensure you value your cuppa as never before”
“This fascinating book by Sarah Rose tells the story of Robert Fortune, an early 19th-century botanist who, disguised as a Mandarin, was employed by the East India Company to discover the secrets of tea-growing in China”
“Fortune's act of agricultural espionage is the subject of Sarah Rose's fascinating book”
“Sarah Rose's For All the Tea in China is a gripping spy story, which brilliantly recounts how plant-hunter Robert Fortune committed one of the greatest acts of industrial espionage in history... Rose's account is superbly well written”
Good Book Guide
“In this lively account of the adventures (and misadventures) that lay behind Robert Fortune's bold acquisition of Chinese tea seedlings for transplanting in British India, Sarah Rose demonstrates in engaging detail how botany and empire-building went hand in hand.”
Jonathan Spence, author of THE SEARCH FOR MODERN CHINA
“As a lover of tea and a student of history, I loved this book. Sarah Rose conjures up the time and tales as British Legacy Teas are created before our eyes. We drink the delicious results of Robert Fortune's adventures every day”
Michael Harney, author of THE HARNEY & SONS GUIDE TO TEA
“For All The Tea In China is a rousing Victorian adventure story chronicling the exploits of botanical thief Robert Fortune, who nearly single-handedly made the British tea industry possible in India. Sarah Rose has captured the thrill of discovery, the dramatic vistas in the Wuyi Mountains, and the near-disasters involved in Fortune's exploits. For tea-lovers, history buffs, or anyone who enjoys a ripping good read”
Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World
“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