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For All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite Drink

3.71  ·  Rating Details ·  1,864 Ratings  ·  367 Reviews
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 b ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published March 5th 2009 by Hutchinson (first published March 1st 2009)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Hannah
Aug 27, 2013 Hannah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rating Clarification: 4.5 Stars

Engaging, highly readable and very informative. The perfect reading balance of entertainment and education. Provided just what I love about well-written non-fiction. 1/2 star deducted due to a very lackluster, tacked-on conclusion.


Recommended.
Kathy
Aug 11, 2010 Kathy rated it it was ok
This book should be riveting, but I found it less than interesting. I think this is so because I listened to it on audio and was unengaged by the reader. The book is read by the author, who is a fine writer, but a terrible reader: to the point of being outright distracting. Her voice is little-girlish, and she lacks flow when reading. I think I will go back and actually read this, because there is a good story in here. Perhaps it won't seem as choppy when I read the text. I strongly caution anyo ...more
George
Jun 17, 2010 George rated it liked it
Sarah Rose focuses on an important, but somewhat obscure subplot of the history of the British imperialism in Asia -- Scottish botanist Robert Fortune's employment by the East India Company to steal tea plants, as well as the relevant technologies and expertise, from the Chinese. His work will allow India to start producing well-regarded tea of its own, taking some of the power away from the Chinese and helping tea to grow in popularity by opening up the market and reducing prices. It's an impor ...more
Jennifer
Feb 06, 2014 Jennifer rated it did not like it
Some authors should not read their own books. Imagine an excitable fourth grader reading her own screenplay aloud, doing all the voices. We made it through one disk.
Liz
Jul 15, 2013 Liz rated it it was amazing
Shelves: factual-history
I loved this book.
On Amazon a few people have pointed out inaccuracies such as monetary conversions and mixing up 'English' and 'British'. Honestly, I didn't notice any of these and as I haven't got a memory for facts and figures it doesn't bother me much. What I did notice was a great story.

I've read a lot of factual books and they seem to fall into two categories:
Those which present just the facts - there will be very little dialogue or embellishment
Those which craft a story from the facts - t
...more
Peter
Aug 06, 2016 Peter rated it really liked it
This is a book of many parts. Part history, it recounts the Imperialistic reach of the British quest for tea; part biography, it tells the story of Robert Fortune, the man who brought the tea of China to the cups of the British household and in the process perhaps perpetrated the greatest theft of property in history. The book is also a lush travelogue of the Far East with stories of beautiful mountains, pirates, Fortune assuming disguises to fool the Chinese, and the habits of Chinese household ...more
Jodi
Jun 10, 2010 Jodi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: tea lovers, English &/or Chinese history fans
In preparation for my trip to China a year and a half ago I read everything about China I could get my hands on. I still love to read books about China because it is such an interesting culture......this book didn't disappoint. I struggled with 3 or 4 stars though because sometimes I had to go back and reread because it seemed to jump from one idea to the next with little transition. However, the story of Robert Fortune infiltrating a country that was pretty much closed to the outside world and ...more
Abigail Bok
Mar 17, 2015 Abigail Bok rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For All the Tea in China is an adventure story in the guise of a history book, and is a delight to read. It follows the work of botanist Robert Fortune, who in the 1840s was tasked by the British East India Company to travel illegally into the Chinese hinterland and steal high-quality tea plants and seeds, as well as the secrets to processing both green and black tea. The Company wished to undercut the Chinese tea trade and establish tea plantations in India, where they would be under the Compan ...more
Kirk Battle
Oct 25, 2013 Kirk Battle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Part adventure story, part economics of trade, part social history, it does a really good job of covering all the angles of what's happening in the world. It helps that I'm a tea fanatic and only order the good stuff, so learning about the tea making process has been fun as the English steal it. You basically had these two countries selling each other drugs, the British dumping opium into China and then the Chinese selling tea to the English. It's neat that the main character is this botanist wh ...more
Michele
Mar 20, 2012 Michele rated it it was amazing
Corporate theft and espionage ~ all for a good cuppa! Well, not just for a good cup of tea; more to keep and expand Britain's world supremecy in the nineteenth century. Sarah Rose's exploration into the transplanting of tea from China to India is filled with a wide variety of topics, as well as unforseen outcomes. The book covers topics from botany and Wardian cases (early, very large terrariums that kept propagated tea plants alive during months at sea) to the geopolitics of the times (swapping ...more
Andrew
Apr 04, 2010 Andrew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An interesting popular history follows the botanical career of Robert Fortune in bringing Chinese tea to India and dashing the Chinese market monopoly. Drawn from the correspondence and notes of Fortune during the mid-1800s, it lacks drama but describes well the steps and misteps taken by the East India Company in trying to build the tea trade.

Rose also does a nice job of summarizing the impact of tea on English culture, particularly at the end where she credits it with overcoming problems with
...more
Michael Pryor
Apr 30, 2011 Michael Pryor rated it liked it
Great story about the espionage behind the British acquisition of tea and its transplanting to India, but the writing plodded a little - perhaps imitating the meandering journeys? Worth a read, though.
Syafiqa
Mar 05, 2016 Syafiqa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love this book! I learned so much about tea, horticulture, and East India Company. Ms Rose does a great job to describe the history in easy manner. The book does seem bias I guess, written by westerner, it kept on giving the impression that Chinamen are all opportunist
Valerie
This story of industrial espionage, is not as riveting as it could have been. I was fascinated by the technology that allowed plant cuttings to be nurtured on long sea voyages.
Lia
Nov 05, 2014 Lia rated it did not like it
My advice is, avoid the audio/CD version of this book. It was terrible.
Karla
Mar 31, 2017 Karla marked it as tbr-ebook
Wow, I'm going to have to read this instead of the audiobook. Bad idea to have an author read it who doesn't have the voice or manner for it. Obnoxious vocal fry, amateurish dramatic affectations, no sense of cadence or emphasis, valley girl delivery....I could only get through the first couple chapters.
Kay

The Thrill to Conquer, but Politely

The exotic histories of everyday items never fails to astonish me. Coffee, tea, salt, chocolate, tobacco, rubber, oil, opium, cotton, cod, spices, sugar: these stand out as some of the major commodities upon which empires have been built. Reading the exploits of intrepid botanists, who scaled mountain peaks and slashed through rain forests undertaking searches for new and useful plants, has long been a favorite adventure genre. Sarah Rose's For All the Tea in C

...more
Kendra
Apr 19, 2012 Kendra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone.
Recommended to Kendra by: Martha
For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History packs quite a mouthful of a name, but don't let the title fool you: this is quite a compact and readable volume, packed full of insight, and served with a good dollop of humor.
Here, Sarah Rose gives her readers a straightforward adventure story, inhabited by a hero-figure Anglophiles have long loved--the intrepid Scottish botanist--and a setting that conjures up the mystique of the Orient--the tea fields
...more
Camelia Rose
Aug 18, 2012 Camelia Rose rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Robert Fortune, an arrogant colonist, a daring spy, a keen gardener and botanist, disguised himself as a Mandarin, a member of the ruling class of Qing Empire, managed to steal and smuggle tea seeds and tea plants out of China with the help from his Chinese servants and translator. Fortune played a vital role in bringing China's 2000 years' tea monopoly to an end.

I get quite a vivid picture of the dealing between a British colonist and his Chinese compradors. Both sides considered the other sid
...more
Barbara Atlas
Feb 20, 2013 Barbara Atlas rated it it was amazing
This was a great listen, read by the young Harvard & Chicago-educated author. It was a fun and enlightening explanation of how the British empire imposed its will on China and India. I am ordering a hard copy so I can learn a bit more by reading it, and hopefully, studying maps and pictures.

According to Goodreads, "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 C
...more
Caroline
Sep 11, 2011 Caroline rated it it was amazing
[For All the Tea in China : How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History] by Sarah Rose is a wonderful book tracing the origins of tea since the 1800s. The journey of green and black tea from the mountains of China to the slopes of the Himalayas to the common teapots in England is outlined in detail, thanks to the memoir and copious notes taken by Robert Fortune, the man responsible for not only bringing high quality teas to England but also for bringing back many flowering p ...more
Rachel
Jun 24, 2011 Rachel rated it did not like it
Simplistic, disjointed, poorly edited (hello, typos, I didn't expect to see so many of you here today), and NO FOOTNOTES. How the hell do you write a nonfiction history book and have no information about where you got your information? Also, things that were clearly from one (ahem, RACIST) man's memoirs were stated as fact. What. The. Hell.

Example: One tale about Robert Fortune (the botanist/adventurer/world-traveler/spy that is essentially the main character of this story) has him on his boat
...more
Gail Cooke
Apr 09, 2010 Gail Cooke rated it really liked it
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 For
...more
Harold
A very informative bildungsroman of Robert Fortune, a Scot from a small rural village who, despite his humble working class background, was indispensable to the crreation of the lucrative tea plantations of North India.
This book takes place during the era of British plant hunters who roamed the colonies looking for new plants to cultivate in the prestigeous Royal Botanic Garden of Kew and the Chelsea Physics Garden, both located in London.
This was the era of the mid 19th century when Britain's t
...more
Arlian
Mar 31, 2013 Arlian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd like to like this book more, but unfortunately it was really hard to listen to. Sarah Rose, the author, published the book herself and then also narrated the audiobook version herself. I legitimately have GOT to give her props for her DIY attitude--I think it's totally rad that she tried to do all this work herself. If more authors read their own books, there would be more audiobooks. One of the inhibiting factors in audiobook production is the cost of the narrator and the studio. Smaller pu ...more
Abigail Hartman
Oct 01, 2015 Abigail Hartman rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I don't read much modern history, so Rose's account of Robert Fortune and his transmission (read: theft) of tea from China to India was new and intriguing for this tea-drinker. The trouble was that I didn't find the book particularly well written. Sentences were choppy, often broken up when they could have stayed in a single paragraph or stuck together when they should have been separate (or just didn't flow at all). The literary quality was distracting, and despite the dramatic set-up, the book ...more
Jen
Mar 22, 2009 Jen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
All tea drinkers should read this book, which is the story of Robert Fortune. Don't know him? If you love tea, you should. You have Robert to thank for getting it into your hands. He went deep into China as a spy for the British empire, and sent back the live plants, seeds, and secrets that would introduce tea growing to India (then a part of the empire), reducing the prices and increasing the quality and quantity available to tea drinkers. Sarah's account of Robert Fortune's story is imaginativ ...more
Mlg
Oct 06, 2012 Mlg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this story of how the British stole tea plants and seeds from the Chinese, in order to cultivate tea in India. Initially the East India company sold the Chinese opium in exchange for tea.
Then the Chinese outlawed opium. This caused the British to hire Robert Fortune, a plant hunter who they then sent to the innermost parts of China to steal plants and seeds. His adventures in a country that was off limits to foreigners were amazing. He also had to deal with the incompetence of those who
...more
Meaghan
Dec 17, 2010 Meaghan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a self-proclaimed theic (one who is addicted to tea), I am thrilled someone, in modern times, has tackled this vast, interwoven tale of a name that changed so much but it little remembered. Tea is like wine. Growing seasons, climates, picking times, drying, storing and shipping all affect the taste. And there are plenty who prefer a potent earl grey to a warm green tea. And it was plant-hunter and spy Robert Fortune who discovered (for the Western world) that these two very different teas gre ...more
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There is more than one author with this name.

Sarah Rose is a writer living in New York. She was educated at Harvard and the University of Chicago.
More about Sarah Rose...

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“But he [the gardener] works in a fourth dimension as well: time.” 1 likes
“The terraced slopes were a marvel of human muscle, a compelling demonstration of what China’s giant workforce could accomplish over generations. Even so, many from their region had left farming for trade.” 1 likes
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