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

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  3,254 ratings  ·  548 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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Average rating 3.78  · 
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Jun 17, 2010 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
Aug 11, 2010 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
Aug 27, 2013 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.

Jun 24, 2011 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
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it

Whenever one thinks of the East India company, one thinks of its gradual evolution from a small trading post in a corner of India to eventually occupying the country and ruling it in the interests of Britain. But, little does one reflect on what the Company did in China, which had far-reaching consequences for itself and the world. Prior to the 19th century, China held the secrets of how to cultivate Tea, harvest and manufacture it on mass scale for the markets around the world. The British wer
Jun 10, 2010 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
Feb 06, 2014 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.
Abigail Bok
Mar 17, 2015 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
Clare O'Beara
I've really enjoyed reading this book every evening. Robert Fortune, head of the Physic Garden in Chelsea, London, was sent out to China to search for and steal the secrets and seeds of tea.

The Scot led a charmed life for at this time, 1840s, China was largely closed to foreign travellers and resented having lost a war to better military technology and being forced to trade on British terms. The author makes no bones about explaining what the East India Tea Company - the world's first global co
Aug 06, 2016 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
Camelia Rose
Robert Fortune, a colonist, a 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.

The book paints a vivid picture of the dealing between a British colonist and his Chinese compradors. Both sides considered the other side cunning and
Mar 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Melinda by:

I had heard this story from a friend of mine (somewhat embellished) for many years, and when I found this book I bought it immediately.
By the mid 1800s, England was importing vast amounts of tea from China. (In fact, it was the British East India Company which had been granted a monopoly on the importation of tea into Britain.). In order to create a comparable trade, England imported opium into China. This was an extremely lucrative business for both China and Britain, but China did not want to
May 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sarah Rose's For All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite Drink is a highly informative book, especially for someone like me, who drinks an average of one whole pot of tea per day -- both hot and iced.

Before 1850 or so, the export of tea was controlled by China, which did not allow the plant to be grown elsewhere. The tea that was sold to Britain had small amounts of cyanide and other substances to make the product more "attractive" to buyers. And
Oct 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is the story of the lengths that England and the British East India Company went about to monopolize the tea industry away from China. Robert Fortune, gardener, botanist and plant hunter was sent by England to secretly gather plants from China to send to India (where England had British Rule). Aiding him in the transplantation of the plants (besides some Chinese citizens) was the newly invented Wardian case, a predecessor of the terrarium. This was definitely a hard to put down book. So int ...more
Simon Eskildsen
May 12, 2019 rated it liked it
An enjoyable account of likely the largest IP-theft in history. We may think of 'intellectual property' in terms of patents, but horticulture is a legit application of the term: seeds, growing, and processing. In the mid-1900s Britain wanted tea, and they traded it with China for, primarily, opium. Wanting to ease their dependence on China, continue their mercantilistic pursuits, as well as utilizing their Indian colony further, they decided to send in Mr. Fortune to visit the tea gardens of Chi ...more
Jul 15, 2013 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
Shahine Ardeshir
Nov 26, 2017 rated it liked it
What interested me in picking this book up, and what kept me reading all the way through was the story: How the British stole tea-making from China, and started growing it in India. The biggest heist in the history of the world! As an Indian, I took the fact that we grow copious amounts of world class tea here for granted. I didn't realize that this was all a function of our colonial past, and so I wanted to know more. It formed part of my ever-growing interest in the true impact of colonisation ...more
Oct 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book has it all - well written, great history, botany, linking historical periods with nutrition, travel, shipping of plants... I knew of Fortune’s Double Yellow rose, but had no idea of Robert Fortune’s other botanical exploits in China. If you like plants, history and tea, this is the book for you. I can’t wait for Sarah Rose’s next book.
I listened to the audio book. It was read by the author. Took a bit to get used to the voice, but totally fine once I adjusted.
Michael Pryor
Apr 30, 2011 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.
Mar 05, 2016 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
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.
Sep 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this in the fall of 2012. I was fascinated by the history of tea production in the mid-1800s. A must read for any tea lover.
This book was utterly fascinating! I learned so much! Thank you for sending me this book, Jennifer!
Ram Kaushik
An excellent dramatization of how the East India Company hired a botanist adventurer to steal tea from one colony (China) to start tea plantations in another (India). Ms. Rose has clearly done a lot of research into the period and manages to thread a fairly coherent narrative through the lens of economics and colonial history. Her writing has the attention-grabbing immediacy of fiction so this book is definitely a compelling read. I would have rated it four stars except for some flaws in scholar ...more

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

Sep 11, 2011 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
Kirk Battle
Oct 25, 2013 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
Matthew J.
Oct 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very readable look at the adventures and exploits of Robert Fortune, a 'plant hunter' sent by the British East India Company to steal the secrets of tea from China. Against a backdrop of world-wide technological and social upheaval, at a time when England's power was reaching it's peak, when India was under England's thumb and China was still a shrouded mystery, Fortune goes beyond the territories set aside for foreigners, and heads into the deepest parts of China. Facing hardships, questionab ...more
Mar 20, 2012 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
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There is more than one author with this name.

Sarah Rose is a journalist and author of D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis and Helped Win World War II, and the critically acclaimed For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History.

She was a news columnist at the Wall Street Journal, and her features have appeared in Outside,

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