Tea is a world-wide drink, but in the West no country’s society has been more deeply permeated by the leaves of Camellia Senensis than Britain. In fact, the Brits have quite a tale to tell when it comes to what they went through to get their hands on a hot cup of tea.
In the early stages of Britain’s romance with tea, you might say they were having a bit of a struggle winning over the legal guardians — a.k.a. the Chinese. They tried trading average goods, but China wasn’t interested. They tried trading silver bullion, but that was an economical blunder. They tried trading opium (which was illegal in China) and did fairly well.
But the real breakthrough was made by the British East India Trading Company, with the assistance of the Scottish botanist Robert Fortune. Instead of trading for tea, Fortune went deep into China (deeper than was legal by Chinese law) and stole tea plants. He brought the plants to India and started what would eventually mature into a plethora of Indian tea plantations, giving the British easier access to what had transformed from a drink of the aristocracy to a national beverage.
So, the question is: does this story surprise you? If sneaking, stealing, and conniving all seem like perfectly reasonable options for getting a cup of tea in a bind, well, you’re in good company.
Welcome to the Teaflection blog, a little lounge of ours where we’ll discuss taste, history, origins, mythology, health, and varieties of tea.