Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Tea: Addiction, Exploitation, and Empire

Rate this book
Tea came late to England—after its arrival in Portugal, Holland, and France—but quickly became a national obsession. Tea gardens and shops sprang up everywhere in seventeenth-century England. Demand soon spread to the colonies, where the heavy taxation on tea led to smuggling on a massive scale and, in the New World, cost England her American empire. Tea drove the British to war with China, to guarantee the supply of pekoe, and it prompted colonists to clear jungles in India, Ceylon, and Africa for huge tea plantations. In time, the cultivation of tea would subject more than one million laborers to wretched working conditions. Hundreds of thousands of them would die for the commodity that for four centuries propelled Britain's economy and epitomized the reach of its empire. With the same colorful detail and narrative skill that pushed The Great Hedge of India to international success, author Roy Moxham, once a tea planter himself, maps the impact of a monumental and imperial British enterprise. In this new volume, he offers a fully fascinating, and frequently shocking tale of England's tea trade—of the lands it claimed, the people it exploited, the profits it garnered, and the cups it filled.

271 pages, Paperback

First published September 12, 2003

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Roy Moxham

8 books20 followers
Roy Moxham is author of The Great Hedge of India (2001). After thirteen years in Africa, he became first a dealer in African Art, then a book conservator, now in charge of preservation and conservation at the University of London Library.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
31 (15%)
4 stars
81 (40%)
3 stars
67 (33%)
2 stars
16 (8%)
1 star
3 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 29 of 29 reviews
Profile Image for Wendy.
165 reviews
January 14, 2020
This book provided a solid overview of tea cultivation, imperialism and economics; the organization of these topics by setting (China, India) and chronology (18 century, Victoria era) kept the broad overview well-organized. Within chapters, however, the chronology and discussion felt muddled -- particularly in the last few chapters of the book. Compounding this feeling were the author's introductory and concluding chapters, which focused upon his own experience in the tea industry. Although interesting, these chapters made the book feel like two different narratives -- one personal and one historical -- which never seem to come together cohesively. Overall, however, I enjoyed the book for its thorough detail and examination of how tea profoundly affected the balance of power within and among nations.
Profile Image for Pamela.
9 reviews
May 29, 2015
I love tea. More than coffee these days. I have to have my morning cup! So I was interested in reading about the history of tea. I thought it would be a fun and interesting "story". I was really shocked and amazed while reading this book. There is a lot to this story that is amazing in this interesting and well researched book. And in many ways, it is a shocking statement about what a colony really is. I had never really thought about what it means to be a colony. But through both of Roy Moxham's books, one about the salt tax in India and this one about tea in India and elsewhere, I have learned the horrible truth about what a colony really is. If you only take one thing away from his books, it is to learn what it means to be a colony. An absolutely astonishing and shocking statement. And yet we have the British to thank for the world wide love of tea. It is easily available and widely loved. But at great suffering for the people of India in the past, something that is not well known.

I had always thought that tea, black tea, was a product of India. I was amazed to learn that while there may have been a few tea trees in the jungles of Assam a long time ago, it was the British who wanted to get tea away from the Chinese, who started growing it in India, starting from the early 1800s. Before the British, there was no tea drinking in India!! Also, I had assumed that durning the long trips to England, the green Chinese tea on board the British ships had continued to ferment and that created the black tea that we know today. But that seems to be incorrect. It seems to be true that the Chinese also created black teas as well as their oolong teas and green teas. China is the origin of tea drinking. All other countries, including Japan and India, got the tea trees (tea is a tree!!) from China! The British just continued the tradition. They had imported the green teas as well as the black. The black teas were just more popular in England.

This book is about the history of tea in relation to British tea drinking and tea culture in Britain as well the the British efforts to first import tea from China, then to grow it in India and Ceylon (and later elsewhere). But more than anything, it is the growing of tea in India, how the British went about it, that is fascinating and shocking at the same time. You will learn the true meaning of what it means to be a colony. And what avarice really is. If you want to understand the true meaning of avarice read Roy Moxham's book about the salt tax in India as well: The Great Hedge of India. These two books have opened my eyes to what a colony is and how horrible it is to be a colony. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of tea and the history of India.
Profile Image for Roopesh Kohad.
21 reviews
August 28, 2019
The book has lot of details about how it was grown, experimented with and flourished in different parts of the world including China. However, the names, the places and geography is so detailed and having not been to those places doesn't evoke any visuals. The part about Darjeeling and surrounding was fascinating to read having visited them but even Assam couldn't relate. The Tea Planter's life which is described is fascinating. Didn't finish the entire book but not looking forward to.
Profile Image for Delphine.
136 reviews6 followers
May 29, 2019
Une excellente vue d’ensemble des liens historiques entre l’empire Britannique et le thé, qui permet également de mieux comprendre les conditions dans lesquelles les grands pays producteurs de thé ont commencé. De quoi se sentir mal en buvant sa tasse du matin...
Également intéressant pour quiconque s’intéresse à l’histoire du colonialisme.
643 reviews5 followers
December 9, 2019
Lots of interesting info. The colonists just take take take.
Profile Image for Lashawn.
Author 30 books40 followers
August 6, 2011
I read this in one day on vacation. Interesting to read the exploitive history of tea and what lengths Britain went to get their cup of tea fix. (Getting China hooked on opium so they can keep trade open? Not cool.) Moxham's language was pretty colonistic, though he strongly disapproves the abuses Britain did to workers in India and Cylon. His word choices sometimes rubbed me the wrong way (gangs of Africans, for instance). His opening and ending chapters were a head scratcher, as well. He starts off the book with him applying for a plantation manager job in Malawi. He then goes into the history of tea, bookending with him arriving in Malawi and his daily routine there. I think it was meant to bring in a personal element into the book, however, it ends without conclusion (he ends it at a weird place, with no follow up on how the election went, or how long he stays as a manager). Perhaps he planned to write a sequel...in any case, the history was enough for me. I wasn't really interested in his personal life.
Profile Image for Dox.
58 reviews
July 9, 2010
This book sucked me in initially because it started with the author's own experiences about working on a tea estate in Africa.

Then, he takes a nosedive into the historical context of how the tea empire started, grew, and basically took advantage of the local populations. There's a lot of awful, terrible behavior to account for. This part, which was the bulk of the book, was also the most dry and seemed vaguely repetitious. It contains a good deal of useful information, and a well constructed general time line of how things happened, but it's not an easy slog through some of the parts that were more clinically described.

The last part gets back to what the author was doing and how he fared, and it was more interesting, given the background the reader was now aware of, but I'm not entirely sure it was worth it to get through the dustier-written bulk of the background just for better grip I'd had on the last ten pages.
Profile Image for Bookworm.
1,846 reviews58 followers
October 5, 2017
First few pages were fascinating. Then it got really boring. Tea is a hobby and I was intrigued by the subtitle of 'Addiction, Exploitation, and Empire'. I had hoped this book would address the less "romantic" aspects of tea (tea parties held by people in nice clothes, etc.) and more about the darker side of tea, its place in history, how it's harvested, etc.
Initially we start off with Moxham's own history of picking up and working on a tea estate in Africa and that definitely perked my interest. Then he leaps into the history of tea and its role in the Opium Wars and the like. The information is interesting, but boy is the author really dry. Like other readers I also side-eyed some of his language (he talks about growing up with the idea of empire and he himself left the UK to make his adventure abroad in a British Protectorate which is now Malawi) although he is critical at points.
I couldn't help but feel it would have better if he had stuck to his own personal autobiography rather than aiming for a formal history of tea and woven the history in discussing what it was like to run an actual tea estate. He does return to this at the end but by then it is too late and it isn't worth the history.
Would really like to read a history of tea from the viewpoint of Indian or Chinese people, though. 
I bought this and had it for awhile but it wasn't worth it. Skip it or at least make the effort to see if a library has it instead.
Profile Image for Reza Amiri Praramadhan.
480 reviews23 followers
February 1, 2023
In my belief, tea is the more superior drink than coffee, for tea fueled full-fledged imperialism. In this book, The author brings us to the history of tea, its cultivation, distribution and consumption. From a commodity that was needed to be smuggled into British Isles, the need for satiating the ever growing demand for tea led Great Britain to break open the infamously isolationist market of Chinese Qing Empire and dotted its colonial possession with tea plantation. Tea became British's national drink, and an important part of English culture.

Throughout the book, The author takes us on a brief walk through the appaling (yet utterly profitable) conditions of tea plantations within British's colonial possession, namely India, in Bengal and Assam, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Kenya, and Nyasaland (now Malawi), with special story of how the author worked as a manager of a tea plantation in Nyasaland, and also on how tea was consumed throughout the time, from the adulterated, early years, to the rise of tea bags.

Overall, as I love tea, by extension I also enjoyed reading this book. While I got rather bored while reading about Indian plantations, The author's Nyasaland working experiences, managing tea plantations while Hastings Banda independence movement brewing in the background piqued my interest in this book.
1 review
March 28, 2019
Tea: Addiction, Exploitation, and Empire is about how the power of an empire can take something as simple as leaf water and turn it into a massive industry that runs off of conquering others and bloodshed. Britain’s obsession with Tea is what made it what it is today. They weren’t even the first to have discovered Tea. Britain’s power is what was able to make Tea such a common commodity today. It wasn’t always this way. Tea was once only for the very wealthy. My favorite parts of the book are the old accounts and descriptions of tea. I love the way that they wrote and spoke during these times. A quote taken from Discourse of Voyages, written in 1595 by Jan Huygen van Linschoten, states,” They use a certaine drink, which is a pot with hote water, which they drinke as hote as ever they may endure, whether it be winter or summer.”
I decided to read this book because I wanted to learn about something that I knew nothing about. I would encourage anyone who wants to learn something new to read this book. It amazed and surprised me to learn of the vast history of something as simple as tea. One thing that I didn’t quite enjoy were Moxham’s personal accounts of working in Nyasaland but I guess it establishes some form of credibility and connection to the topic.
May 18, 2020
A great book on economic botany, exploring the seedy underbelly of tea. Part memoir, part entertaining expository, Moxham weaves an intriguing history of war, smuggling, agriculture, and enterprise all fueled by a love of tea. Definitely told from the British point of view, sometimes lacking sensitivity towards slavery and local worker which is a touch cringe-worthy at times addressing topics of local customs and abusive conditions with a dry detachment typical of many historical non-fiction. -Melissa Anderson, Collections Coordinator
12 reviews1 follower
September 10, 2021
A good enough, albeit summarised account of tea and how England variously influenced the world to get their cuppa. A lot of dry statistics presented beautifully. The personal accounts in the beginning and at the end are supposed, probably, to provide a different angle, but that resulted in the book ending rather abruptly.
Profile Image for Kathy.
460 reviews6 followers
August 25, 2019
Quite interesting and informative history of the British relationship with tea. The first and last chapters comprise autobiographical anecdotes from the author's experience of working in a tea plantation in Nyasaland around 1960.
Profile Image for Poyraz.
18 reviews1 follower
May 8, 2021
This in my opinion is an easy-read bed side book. The history of tea as well as the economy built around it is definitely interesting. The parts about exploitation of the local population was very disturbing (but real!) though.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Brooke Lyndaker.
3 reviews3 followers
January 22, 2018
Provides an excellent overview of the subject without sacrificing details. I found interesting quotations throughout the book that were worth underlining for future reference.
Profile Image for Nathan.
40 reviews10 followers
May 1, 2022
a slice of history between UK and Asia, between capitalism game and habit-forming
Profile Image for Ricki.
100 reviews11 followers
April 30, 2008
Interesting and informative story of tea - the growth, trade and the social history of planters and labour. It covers China, India, Ceylon and touches upon East Africa. Fascinating side facts - did you know that Jardine-Matheson bank - Jardine made his original profits on opium traded to the Chinese and joined up with Matheson who was also in the opium business...
Also - to quote - 'The Americans were also in the opium business. As Indian opium was monopolized by the British they had to find supplies in Turkey. Between 1818 and 1833 the Americans brought opium worth nearly $5million into China. This was less than a twentieth of the more than $100 million brought in over the same period by the British. The principal American firm was Russell and Company. Its ships flew the American flag, and one of its opium captains became head of the firm. He was succeeded by Warren Delano II, grandfather of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.'
When one reads of the clearing of land to form tea plantations, one is reminded of our attempts to preserve and protect the rain-forests in modern times....interesting and thought-provoking all around.
Profile Image for Kate.
1,188 reviews
May 12, 2009
"Tea is utterly improper for food, hitherto useless in physick, and therefore to be arranged among the poysonous vegetables. Were it entirely wholesome as balm or mint, it were yet mischief enough to have our whole populace used to sip warm water in a mincing effeminate manner once or twice a day...In this manner the bold and brave become dastardly, the strong become weak, the women become barren; or if they breed, their blood is made so poor that they have not the strength to suckle, and if they do, the child dies of the gripes. The poor people's children which are bred with it, as they really are in the cities and towns, are only fit for footmen and chambermaids...I leave anyone to judge what soldiers we are like to have. The Spaniards very likely had felt the force of English beer within this last twenty years, if the use of it had not been exchanged for warm water bewitch'd with Indian poyson."
Profile Image for Brenna.
193 reviews
September 22, 2014
Moxham writes with authority; as a young man, he managed a tea plantation in Africa, so he brings both immediate experience and meticulous research to his explanation of the development of the British tea trade.

Moxham's book provides a detailed account of the trade, from its inception through the Opium Wars to present-day plantations in India and Africa.

The book is a dense read, often crammed with statistics. Overall, though, it provides a useful history of the tea trade, with plenty of information about the tea itself and the planters and workers who produce it.
Profile Image for Julian Walker.
Author 3 books6 followers
December 9, 2014
This is my favourite drink so it made sense to know a little more about it and in Tea, Roy Moxham has created a special brew.

Part history, part observational commentary, full on enjoyment, he puts history into perspective through the rise of the humble cuppa.

Well written, eminently readable and a gold mine of interesting facts, this fascinating account of the impact a few leaves have had on society is a rare treat.

Put the kettle on and settle down for an eye-opening insight into our lives.
Profile Image for Bill.
516 reviews2 followers
December 14, 2013
Tea served as a vehicle for British imperialism in it worst form. The plantation system virtually enslaved large population of workers for the sake of a cheap drink in England. I would have like more of the book devoted to tea's natural history and more time spent on the dynamics of tea in the twentieth century rather than on nineteenth century colonialism. The final chapter describes the author year spent as a manager on a tea plantation in Africa.
Profile Image for Andrea.
880 reviews70 followers
August 14, 2010
This is not only entertaining, but more informative than the other brief histories out there. The author traces the history of tea largely through economics and politics, but uses enough examples and anecdotes to keep it interesting. I was surprised that there wasn't more about tea growing in Africa, as the author was a tea estate manager in Malawi at one time, but I would recommend this book.
Profile Image for Joshua.
51 reviews
July 23, 2012
A very well written and concise introduction to tea. For the somewhat more enlightened reader, it may seem to gloss over the finer details, however, it is undeniably a very good staring point. Well researched and very aware of the absurd, often frightfully terrible history this pant has had, Moxham deserves mad props for this book.
Profile Image for Krystal.
807 reviews25 followers
October 23, 2015
I enjoyed this introduction to the history of tea and how closely its growth was linked to colonialism and wars in both India and China. I did also enjoy the bookend chapters of the author's experience as a tea grower in Africa in the 1960s - it gave a unique perspective into the world he'd spent a book describing.
Profile Image for Heather.
101 reviews5 followers
July 16, 2012
An interesting exploration of the history of tea cultivation and its impact on the various regions of the world. It starts and ends as a memoir of the author as a young man working in a tea plantation in Africa.
Profile Image for Jessica.
501 reviews1 follower
July 1, 2019
The beginning and end sections about his tea estate working experience were enjoyable, but the middle/history of tea was not told in the most interesting manner.
43 reviews20 followers
May 29, 2017
British Imperialism was beset with blood money, fueled by its trade with the colonies it had under power. One of the biggest and most popular trade commodities was Tea.

The book explores how Britain developed its taste for tea, and then went about to make that addiction into a profitable venture for itself. Among the many anecdotes, ironies you may find in this telling tale, one that stands out is that Britain financed its own addiction for tea by getting the Chinese addicted on Opium. Early forces of globalisation didn't function under the mandate of International bodies, but simply functioned around the rationale of how much money could be made on a trade.
Displaying 1 - 29 of 29 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.