For All the Tea in China by Sarah Rose

For All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite DrinkFor All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World’s Favourite Drink by Sarah Rose
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rose has penned a journeyman work about an interesting historical character that I knew nothing about previously. I suspect the same is true for you. Robert Fortune was an English botanist who was dispatched to China to acquire tea plants and seeds to be transplanted in the Indian Himalayas, which England then controlled. This was to strip China of its monopoly on high quality tea. It was more than a mere botanical research excursion. Fortune would have been killed had his identity and purpose been made known. He traveled incognito, disguised as a Manchurian mandarin, and met with some exciting adventures and misadventures. The author relates these quite well, with a dash of flair.

I’m a bit lukewarm about the book largely because I am lukewarm about tea. It’s okay as a beverage, although I can’t tell Darjeeling from Earl Grey from Orange Pekoe. To me it’s pretty much just bitter hot water, just as beer is just bitter cold water. I don’t like the taste or effects of tea any more than those of alcohol. It mystifies me why either is so popular, so a story about stealing the secret to tea is akin to, say, stealing the secret to producing licorice. Still, the adventures in the books were a pleasant and unexpected bonus.

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