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For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History Paperback – February 22, 2011

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For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History + The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide + Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (February 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143118749
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143118749
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,725 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Through the adventures of Robert Fortune, a nineteenth-century plant hunter, the reader learns a delicious brew of information on the history of tea cultivation and consumption in the Western world. Rose’s book is certain to draw the attention of history buffs, foodies, avid travel-literature fans, followers of popular science, and perhaps even business-interest book consumers as she reconstructs what she posits as the “greatest theft of trade secrets in the history of mankind.” Tea was grown in China. Great Britain wanted tea. But trying to trade with the Celestial Empire was like pulling teeth. So the East India Company sent hunter Fortune, undercover (dressed in mandarin robes), to penetrate the depths of China and surreptitiously gather—steal, in other words—seeds and young plants and send them to India, where they would flourish in soil that was part of the British Empire. The author’s bold conclusion to this remarkably riveting tale is that Fortune’s “actions would today be described as industrial espionage,” but nevertheless he “changeed the fate of nations.” --Brad Hooper --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"With her probing inquiry and engaging prose, Sarah Rose paints a fresh and vivid account of life in rural 19th-century China and Fortune's fateful journey into it." ---The Washington Post --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

More About the Author

Sarah Rose is the author of FOR ALL THE TEA IN CHINA: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History (Viking, 2010), the true story of a 19th Century botanist who traveled undercover in Qing China to steal the secrets of tea for England and the East India Company; the largest act of corporate espionage in history.

Named the BBC's Book of the Week, FOR ALL THE TEA IN CHINA was called "a wonderful combination of scholarship and storytelling" by NPR and "An enthusiastic tale of how the humble leaf became a global addiction," by the Financial Times. It received starred reviews from Booklist and Library Journal and the AudioPhile Earphones Award for the author-read audiobook and was named an Editor's Choice pick for 2010.

In Hong Kong, Miami and New York, Rose has covered a broad range of beats including international politics and economics during the Hong Kong handover, finance and business during the end of the dot com bubble, the environment, and local stories such as cops, courts and schools. She now writes about food and travel for The Wall Street Journal, Men's Journal, Outside and Bon Appetit among others.

A Chicago native, Rose holds degrees from Harvard College and the University of Chicago.

For All the Tea in China is her first book, published by Viking in the US, Hutchison in the UK.

Visit her on the web at

Customer Reviews

Rose tells Fortune's own dramatic story well.
John L Murphy
This is the story of Robert Fortune, a very unique gardener, and of the chain of events that brought tea to England, and the rest of the world.
Kurt A. Johnson
And yes, the answer to my question was found in the book, too.
Julie D

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Miz Ellen VINE VOICE on March 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Sarah Rose has rescued the aptly named Robert Fortune from the footnotes of Victorian obscurity and written an engrossing story explaining one of the great heists of history: how the British stole tea plants from China and successfully transplanted them in India. It's a spy story for gardeners in which daring-do and botany coexist on every page.

Robert Fortune was the son of a Scottish farm worker. Lacking the means to get a formal education, Fortune learned his skills from practical apprenticeship and obtained a post at the Royal Horticultural Society garden at Chiswick. His skill at cultivating rare blooms from the Orient in hothouses earned him a ticket to China at the end of the First Opium War. His mandate was to collect rare plants and study the botany of China. He almost died there. As he lay gravely ill, the Chinese junk he was on was attacked by pirates. Fortune roused, rushed up on deck and organized a successful defense. The incident illustrates his courage and resource when confronted by adversity.

On his return to London in 1847, he wrote a book about his experiences in China that became a bestseller. When the British East India Company looked around for a man capable of penetrating into the interior of China and obtaining plant specimens and seeds for purposed tea plantations in India, Fortune was the man they turned to.

This is a fascinating book on many fronts. As a story of corporate espionage, it touches on issues of trade and economics that are controversial today. The technology used to bring viable seeds and plants to India is astounding when one considers that sailing ships were the transportation means of that era. A spotlight is put on the opium trade, an issue that still resonates. Sarah Rose writes with a lively, clear style that makes this a hard book to put down. I recommend this book to historians, tea drinkers, economists, gardeners and corporate policy makers. Brew up a cup and enjoy!
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76 of 96 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on March 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
One thing that this book has going for it - and the only thing, really - is that the topic is interesting. I love looking at globalization from a historical perspective, and this does that. I do have a background in history - I am not an academic, but my undergraduate degree was in the field. As such, I was a little skeptical about her comment in the Notes "As this is a work of popular history, not a scholarly undertaking, I have avoided the use of footnotes and tried to steer clear of mentioning sources in the body of the text. Nevertheless, this is a work of nonfiction..." However, I decided that if she could pull off the story than I'd give her that it is in fact a work of popular nonfiction (even though that's assuming that non-academics don't want to know where she got her information).
The problem with this approach that I discovered shortly into the book, is that the entire work comes off as pure conjecture. On one page, Rose will note that there is little in the way of primary source material on Fortune's life - that his wife destroyed much of it, if it ever existed, upon his death. There is no clear way of looking into how Fortune was as a private man. On the next page she'll be describing how Fortune reacted or felt about certain things. Yet she repeatedly notes that there is actually no information to support how Fortune might have felt. How can you claim to be nonfiction when you are writing a story that is pieced together with your own imagination?
I suppose I could get past that irritant if the story itself was well written - but it's not. The writing style is jilted and wandering with occasional side notes that are unnecessary. Overall, I would not recommend this book.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The genre of how one product changed our lives flourishes, and perhaps Britain more than America was so altered by the export of cheap, tasty black tea in Victorian times. Yet, Rose shows how globalization, the drug trade, rapid transport, and botanical espionage and corporate deceit managed to boost Robert Fortune into his modest role as the East India Company's operative who'd pluck Chinese tea seeds and smuggle them out in glass boxes to India, where they would become the hybrids mingled with Himalayan plants to make the black tea we enjoy today.

This would earn billions for a British empire tangled in the opium trade with a restive China, and replace that nation's supply of tea with that grown by its more reliable subjects in India. This shift kept English domination, expanded globalization, set off quicker tea clippers to bring tea to an invigorated porcelain and clay manufacturing region, and would increase health standards as less beer and more water was boiled and then brewed.

Tea picking, she explains, is as if the topmost boughs and last couple of leaves of a Christmas tree were selected. Extremely laborious to gather, 32,000 shoots make ten pounds, nearly what a picker could gather in a day. Five pounds of fresh leaves produce one dry pound.

I found such details intriguing. As Vine offers a proof to read, I do not know if maps and pictures will be included, but no such evidence is in my copy. These features would have enriched the text, for while Rose tells the journeys of Fortune carefully, Western readers unfamiliar with China might have benefited from charts here.
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