For all the tea in China: espionage, empire and the secret formula for the world’s favourite drink by Sarah Rose. Published by Hutchinson, 2009, ISBN 978-0091797065
This is a departure from my normal postings as it’s a book but I just found it so interesting that I thought I’d stick it on here. And it’s about tea, after all. I did most of the reading whilst drinking tea, if that helps.
This book tells the story of a botanist fortune hunter who was sent to China by the East India Company to find the secret of tea and take it to India where the tea could be grown by the Company and sold for more profit. This in itself was an interesting story, but what I found most interesting was the explanation for why we drink tea differently here to those in China. The addition of milk, sugar and a cup with a handle are all British inventions. Sarah Rose concludes that tea helped industrialize Britain.
She adds that drinking tea helped prevent cholera as it is made with boiling water. Sugar was a large commodity at that time and the empire was generating huge amounts of it; adding it to tea gave them a market for the excess sugar. It also added calories to the poor diet of the working class who had previously got calories from ale and beer. This was fine for manual labour but being under the influence was not a good plan in the mills where the shuttle looms could kill if you weren’t careful. Fermented drinks killed bugs but they also took up half of the British grain production, grain that was badly needed to feed a growing nation. Making tea the national drink gave health benefits (no more pregnant women drinking alcohol), saved grain and adding milk also gave them protein.
High quality fresh tea should not be made with boiling water as it ruins the flavour of the leaf, however the tea that came out of China to begin with was low quality and old as it took so long to get here, so boiling water was fine. And when you make tea with boiling water you can’t hold the cup and so you need a handle.
This is just a highlight of some of the nuggets of info that come out of this book. If you like tea (and presumably you do, or why would you be reading this blog?) go get it from your local library or bookshop or friend and read it. Perhaps even read it with a cup of tea.