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For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History [Audiobook, MP3 Audio, Unabridged] [MP3 CD]

Sarah Rose
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 18 2010
In 1848, the British East India Company, having lost its monopoly on the tea trade, engaged Robert Fortune, a Scottish gardener, botanist, and plant hunter, to make a clandestine trip into the interior of China—territory forbidden to foreigners—to steal the closely guarded secrets of tea horticulture and manufacturing. For All the Tea in China is the remarkable account of Fortune's journeys into China—a thrilling narrative that combines history, geography, botany, natural science, and old-fashioned adventure.

Disguised in Mandarin robes, Fortune ventured deep into the country, confronting pirates, hostile climate, and his own untrustworthy men as he made his way to the epicenter of tea production, the remote Wu Yi Shan hills. One of the most daring acts of corporate espionage in history, Fortune's pursuit of China's ancient secret makes for a classic nineteenth-century adventure tale, one in which the fate of empires hinges on the feats of one extraordinary man.

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"With her probing inquiry and engaging prose, Sarah Rose paints a fresh and vivid account of life in rural 19th-century China and Fortune's fateful journey into it." ---The Washington Post

About the Author

Sarah Rose has worked as a journalist in Hong Kong, Miami, and New York, and now covers food and travel for such magazines as Men's Journal, Bon Appetit, and Brides.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A TALE BREWED WITH THRILLS AND ADVENTURE June 30 2010
By Gail Cooke TOP 50 REVIEWER
The subtitle of this fascinating volume is "How England Stole The World's Favorite Drink and Changed History." One may assume that is the author's choice. This reader's choice would be something along the lines of "How Robert Fortune copped a cuppa from the Chinese." Seriously, noted Scottish botanist gardener and plant explorer Fortune is at the heart of this story, and what a tale it is!

Think about it the next time you pick up a carton of tea - you're dealing in stolen merchandise! In 1848 Fortune was tapped by the East India Company to return to China, somehow finagle his way into an area that was forbidden and bring back all there was to know about the horticulture and making of tea. At that time China had tea more than tied up - that country controlled all the world's supply and kept it hidden from foreigners. It was as simple a fact then as now - money. The British East India company was no longer in a position to trade, so if it could find out how to grow its own tea it would lose mega dollars (or pounds in this case).

Fortune more than rose to the challenge. His disguised himself as Chinese complete with mandarin's robes and pigtail. However, his physical transformation was not his most daunting task - he needed to swipe the plants, convince some tea workers to come with him and get all safely back to India.

Sarah Rose has compiled an exciting Victorian adventure filled with risk, danger and almost fatal errors. Fortune is one of our most fascinating historical figures, and a mysterious one. He died in 1880 and we read, "Little is known about how he spent the very last years of his life. For reasons of her own, his wife, Jane, burned all his papers and personal effects upon his death." What stories they might hold!


- Gail Cooke
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3.0 out of 5 stars A good read, with gaps Nov. 23 2010
Gail Cooke's review does an excellent job of outlining the contents of the book. It is a good read. My main complaint is that there are huge gaps in the story which are left as gaps without explanation. Sarah Rose also does not explain what the difference is between black tea and green tea, even though they are made from the same plant.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  89 reviews
45 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Swashbuckling Scientist and Gardener! March 17 2010
By Miz Ellen - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Sarah Rose has rescued the aptly named Robert Fortune from the footnotes of Victorian obscurity and written an engrossing story explaining one of the great heists of history: how the British stole tea plants from China and successfully transplanted them in India. It's a spy story for gardeners in which daring-do and botany coexist on every page.

Robert Fortune was the son of a Scottish farm worker. Lacking the means to get a formal education, Fortune learned his skills from practical apprenticeship and obtained a post at the Royal Horticultural Society garden at Chiswick. His skill at cultivating rare blooms from the Orient in hothouses earned him a ticket to China at the end of the First Opium War. His mandate was to collect rare plants and study the botany of China. He almost died there. As he lay gravely ill, the Chinese junk he was on was attacked by pirates. Fortune roused, rushed up on deck and organized a successful defense. The incident illustrates his courage and resource when confronted by adversity.

On his return to London in 1847, he wrote a book about his experiences in China that became a bestseller. When the British East India Company looked around for a man capable of penetrating into the interior of China and obtaining plant specimens and seeds for purposed tea plantations in India, Fortune was the man they turned to.

This is a fascinating book on many fronts. As a story of corporate espionage, it touches on issues of trade and economics that are controversial today. The technology used to bring viable seeds and plants to India is astounding when one considers that sailing ships were the transportation means of that era. A spotlight is put on the opium trade, an issue that still resonates. Sarah Rose writes with a lively, clear style that makes this a hard book to put down. I recommend this book to historians, tea drinkers, economists, gardeners and corporate policy makers. Brew up a cup and enjoy!
72 of 92 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nonfiction? March 12 2010
By A. R. Grenier - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
One thing that this book has going for it - and the only thing, really - is that the topic is interesting. I love looking at globalization from a historical perspective, and this does that. I do have a background in history - I am not an academic, but my undergraduate degree was in the field. As such, I was a little skeptical about her comment in the Notes "As this is a work of popular history, not a scholarly undertaking, I have avoided the use of footnotes and tried to steer clear of mentioning sources in the body of the text. Nevertheless, this is a work of nonfiction..." However, I decided that if she could pull off the story than I'd give her that it is in fact a work of popular nonfiction (even though that's assuming that non-academics don't want to know where she got her information).
The problem with this approach that I discovered shortly into the book, is that the entire work comes off as pure conjecture. On one page, Rose will note that there is little in the way of primary source material on Fortune's life - that his wife destroyed much of it, if it ever existed, upon his death. There is no clear way of looking into how Fortune was as a private man. On the next page she'll be describing how Fortune reacted or felt about certain things. Yet she repeatedly notes that there is actually no information to support how Fortune might have felt. How can you claim to be nonfiction when you are writing a story that is pieced together with your own imagination?
I suppose I could get past that irritant if the story itself was well written - but it's not. The writing style is jilted and wandering with occasional side notes that are unnecessary. Overall, I would not recommend this book.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Tea is not so much a thing as a cupful of effects" Feb. 24 2010
By John L Murphy - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
The genre of how one product changed our lives flourishes, and perhaps Britain more than America was so altered by the export of cheap, tasty black tea in Victorian times. Yet, Rose shows how globalization, the drug trade, rapid transport, and botanical espionage and corporate deceit managed to boost Robert Fortune into his modest role as the East India Company's operative who'd pluck Chinese tea seeds and smuggle them out in glass boxes to India, where they would become the hybrids mingled with Himalayan plants to make the black tea we enjoy today.

This would earn billions for a British empire tangled in the opium trade with a restive China, and replace that nation's supply of tea with that grown by its more reliable subjects in India. This shift kept English domination, expanded globalization, set off quicker tea clippers to bring tea to an invigorated porcelain and clay manufacturing region, and would increase health standards as less beer and more water was boiled and then brewed.

Tea picking, she explains, is as if the topmost boughs and last couple of leaves of a Christmas tree were selected. Extremely laborious to gather, 32,000 shoots make ten pounds, nearly what a picker could gather in a day. Five pounds of fresh leaves produce one dry pound.

I found such details intriguing. As Vine offers a proof to read, I do not know if maps and pictures will be included, but no such evidence is in my copy. These features would have enriched the text, for while Rose tells the journeys of Fortune carefully, Western readers unfamiliar with China might have benefited from charts here. Also, the Sepoy Mutiny episode, however crucial to the hold of the East India Company and the British empire over India, appears tangential to merit its own chapter, however skillfully summarized.

Rose tells Fortune's own dramatic story well. As he wrote his own account, there is necessary paraphrase and citation, but largely we hear it retold by Rose rather than recounted by Fortune. Along the way we learn about gardens as incorporating the dimension of time into space, of Chinese "face," the sordid coolie trade, opium dens, Enfield rifles, pirates, and how Fortune gave his name to the edible fruit he found, Citrus fortunei, or the kumquat. His 13,000 original seedlings in terraria failed to survive, but another batch did, and from these, the Assam tea business and Darjeeling blends thrive today. He also learned what confounded earlier botanists: while green and black tea plants are harvested separately in different regions, the tea is from the same plant, Camellian sinensis, but only black is cured or "harvested." Cheap sugar boosted the British preference for a tea able to take milk and sugar, the black kind. But, the Indian Assam variety originally was too harsh for European palates, and a hybrid from the protected Chinese varietals was demanded.

Fortune's journey along the "Bohea" Great Tea Road is the highlight of this narrative. At the Wuyi Shan monastery, Buddhists cultivated the craft. Today, the Da Hong Pao type is still guarded by armed men, worth far more than its weight in gold. Here, Fortune found the seeds he'd sneak out that would become today's tea stock. It was a business even around 1850 bringing in $650 million annually in today's money, and out of such a lucrative commerce, Rose demonstrates, globalized networks began to extend that we rely on today with Asia and beyond.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars just my cup of tea March 17 2010
By Shannon B Davis - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Fans of food journalism and travel memoirs will find this book is their cup of tea - pun intended. This book tells the history of tea espionage in the 19th century in a fascinating and fast-paced way. It is a non-fiction book, but has aspects of adventure novel as the reader follows the aptly named Mr. Fortune around on his trips in China. Both the British Empire and China are painted with vivid brushstrokes. His adventures and misadventures are quite funny, influenced by his lack of knowledge of Chinese culture and reliance on the sometimes crafty and conniving servants that guide him around China. The book has the best of food journalism in that it made me want to make a cup of tea, and the best of travel journalism in that I can envision those Chinese mountain ranges in my head, and now wish I could visit them.

The only disappointment for me was the end of the book. After the tea arrived back in India safely, I would have been happy to end the book. Because the remainder of the book was more dry and historical, it probably did not need to be included - except for completeness' sake. It was almost like this book was trying to be two things - an all-inclusive history of tea espionage and its effects on British imperialism, and the story of Robert Fortune. The story that grabs the reader is that of Fortune, tea-hunter. The facts about why the East India Trading Company was seeking out tea and hiring botanists to steal the secrets from China are very interesting, and they support the motivation of the journey. The portraits of the historical figures are revealing and apt. But after the story of Mr. Fortune ends, I didn't care so much about the rest of history.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For all the tea in China, I want more March 15 2010
By CGScammell - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I enjoyed this read. Robert Fortune is practically a self-trained botanist with a sense of adventure who is chosen by the British government to find the hidden tea plants. He knows that black and green tea came from the same plant, but obstinant British scientists are convinced it comes from separate plants. Fortune dresses up as a local mandarin, hires local servants (all of dubious back ground) and ventures far into the Chinese hinterland for the tea plants. A few goofy scientists along way from China to India mess up the first attempt to get tea plants to India. So he goes back for a second attempt...

Many section of this small and fast book read like a tamed-down Lewis and Clark journal. There's some suspense, some mistrust, a few close calls, but Fortune manages to make it out of China alive. It's a nice look at a little-written-about piece of British colonial history and old Chinese customs. But more needed to be told.

Sarah Rose tells a good narrative story here, but I also had unanswered questions. How did the Opium Wars affect Fortune's ventures into China? The Opium Wars are mentioned a few times, but never in great detail.

I was a little annooyed that Rose purposefully avoided footnotes and citations. How can anyone with an interest in history cite her claims then? There obviously was much research done for this book, and a lot of time spent on reading old documents...why not mention it all? Why not cite it all down and give credit where credit is due? She's only opening herself up to criticism from her peers.

I am wavering between three and four stars. Because the story reads well and is otherwise very entertaining, I will settle for four.

Because there are no citations or footnotes, I can't recommend this to a history fan. Perhaps an avid tea drinker, or an adventure reader then.
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