For All the Tea in China

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I’m starting to enjoy this.

Concealed in the murky depths of your cuppa is nothing less than a crucial phase in the rise of the British Empire. If the secret of producing tea could be wrested from the grip of the Chinese Emperor, and the plant itself transplanted to the foothills of the Himalayas in the British Raj, vast revenues would follow and British imperial dominance in the Far East would be incontestable. Enter Robert Fortune, botanist and plant-hunter extraordinaire – as diligent, daring and enterprising a Victorian hero as one could wish for.

Sarah Rose tells a stirring tale of individual derring-do and the fate of nations.


The date is fixed, the final week in April FOR ALL THE TEA IN CHINA is BBC 4’s Book of the Week.

They love me. They love me slightly less. The FT so totally loves me.

Tea is ingrained in the British psyche but the story benefits from an American author for whom the subject is almost exotic. An enthusiastic tale of how the humble leaf became a global addiction.

This warms an author’s heart.

The great tea robbery: How our cuppa wouldn’t exist if an amazing Victorian hadn’t stolen the secret from China’s warlords.

Happy Birthday, book.  FOR ALL THE TEA IN CHINA in bookstores today.

Reviews pouring in

The Irish praise For All the Tea in China.

Rose presents tea as the focus of an exotic adventure story.

So not everyone loves me.  But some do.

The Indiana Jones of tea!

For All the Tea in China was just chosen as BBC Radio 4’s book of the week.   It will be serialized on air everyday for 5 days.  The air date will be some time in April, check here for updates.

Once a luxury, tea is a necessity to some and a spiritual practice for others.  — Aloha Magazine

On sale March 5, 2009. Pre-order For All the Tea in China by Sarah Rose here.

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 by trading opium to the Chinese – a poisonous relationship Britain fought two destructive wars to sustain.

The East India Company had profited lavishly as the middleman, but it was now sinking, having lost its monopoly to trade tea. Its salvation, it thought, was to establish its own plantations in the Himalayas of British India. There were just two problems: India had no tea plants worth growing, and the company wouldn’t have known what to do with them if it had. Hence Robert Fortune’s daring trip.The Chinese interior was off-limits and virtually unknown to the West, but that’s where the finest tea was grown – the richest oolongs, soochongs and pekoes. And the Emperor aimed to keep it that way.

In a Mandarin’s dress, with a black braid sewn into his hair, Robert Fortune ventured deep inside the country, risking his life for science, adventure, and a place among the great plant explorers. From Kew Gardens to grimy Old Shanghai, and on to the remote Wu Yi Shan hills, Sarah Rose tells a true tale of pirates, rebels, subterfuge, espionage, and how one man triumphed over an exotic  Empire.

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