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.
About The Author
A graduate of Harvard and the University of Chicago, Rose's writing
has appeared in The New York Times, The Toronto Globe and Mail, The
South China Morning Post and The San Francisco Chronicle. Currently,
she is the Managing Editor of Plenty, a lifestyle magazine. Previously,
she was special assistant to the Honorable Edward I. Koch, editing his
weekly column in Newsday and producing his daily radio talk show on
WEVD. She has worked as a reporter for Reuters and The Miami Herald,
and as a stringer and travel-writer based in Hong Kong.
"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 *
"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" * The Times *
"[Fortune's] story is well worth the telling, and Rose does so with skill and restraint" * Literary Review *
"Reshapes into gripping prose Fortune's own memoirs and letters ... An enthusiastic tale of how the humble leaf became a global addiction" * Financial Times *
"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" * Daily Mail *