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Tea: Addiction, Exploitation, and Empire Hardcover – September 4, 2003

4.4 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Moxham (The Great Hedge of India) tells the story of how Britain's thirst for tea meshed with its thirst for empire, with devastating repercussions throughout the world. He points out that after tea first came to England from China in the 1700s, it was in great demand but heavily taxed, which led to an increase in smuggling and eventually played a role in England's loss of the American colonies. He then shows that as tea consumption rose, the East India Company paid for Chinese tea with Indian opium, with consequences that resonate in China to the present day. Then, in the mid-1880s, the East India Company began growing tea in India, which culminated in the importation of slave labor from China, Malaya and Bengal. Flogging, low wages, inadequate food, substandard housing and nonexistent medical care contributed to miserable conditions for these workers. Once tea workers started to unionize and nationalism threatened British domination of the tea industry in India, the British turned to Africa. Moxham concludes his provocative book with a description of the year he spent in 1960 as assistant manager on a tea estate in Nyasaland (now Malawi), where the British planters were still arrogantly confident of their racial superiority and fiercely opposed to Nyasaland's growing independence movement. Moxham's searing history of the commodity that has for centuries been so important for England's economy provides plenty of food for thought to go with that next cup of tea. Illus. not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Readers won't find the secret to brewing the perfect cup here. Instead, Moxham explains how a nation's longing for the seemingly innocuous pleasures of a hot cup of tea drew it to commit unspeakable horrors. England took up the tea-drinking habit later than neighboring countries, but no nation took to its tea as did Britain. At first a costly luxury, tea became common in Britain when its traders successfully imported the leaf in vast quantities through commercial dominance of the sea. As trade began, Britain had little of interest to the Chinese, but soon merchants discovered a wildly profitable exchange of British silver for Indian opium for Chinese tea. Chinese efforts to discourage opium smoking led to wars that destabilized the ancient empire, setting the stage for Western dominance. Eventually, Britain likewise exploited India, Ceylon, and Africa to satisfy Britain's lust for tea. A frightening tale, well and relevantly told in a manner that may invite comparison with America's present appetite for oil. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf (September 4, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786712279
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786712274
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,527,403 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I borrowed this book from my local library to read on vacation. Once I started it, I found it hard to put down. Mr. Moxham made even the mundane parts of tea's history fascinating. I felt as if I had gone back in time and witnessed the many incidents he relayed. I particularly enjoyed how he opened and closed the book with his own experience on a tea plantatation in Africa in the early 1960s. This book was a real historical eye-opener for me on many counts, as well as entertaining and well written. If you enjoy your tea and history, I highly recommend you read this book!
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Format: Hardcover
this is a fascinating microhistory of tea, bookended with an unfortunately underdeveloped personal narrative. The historical content is superb and both detailed and aware of world events of the time, giving insights into trade agreements as well as growing conditions. Moxham's own year overseeing a tea plantation in Africa is embarrasingly brief in comparison, and ends the book so abruptly I searched beyond the glossary, hoping for at least an epilogue to explain the paucity. It's among some of the very good books on the historical lure of caffeinated products, and well worth picking up, provided you don't expect the boy's own adventure Moxham's opening pages seem to indicate
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Format: Hardcover
Roy Moxham's book on Tea is an absorbing read, and is peppered with very useful information and traces the history of tea. Perhaps, Moxham has started off a trend of sorts on single commodity books. His first was about salt and the great hedge of India. In that book his focus was more on the hedge, and less on salt. However in this book is focus is exclusively on tea and how it made its way to the western world.

Moxham's stint as a tea-planter in Africa certainly helps him to gain keen insights into this drink, that is beloved to so many of us. A cup of tea is meant to soothe your jangled nerves, and comfort you. But, what you did not know is that this comfort drink went through a bloody and dark period when it was introduced into Great Britain.

The book is rich with details, and Moxham's love for this plant comes through clearly. After reading the book, everytime I drink a cup of tea I look at the drink with a different perspective. We often forget the hard work that goes into making this comfort drink easily available to us.
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Format: Paperback
Tea plantations are beautiful and the tea industry has an antiquarian charm. The author, Roy Moxham. captures some of that charm in this book -- but doesn't neglect describing the seamy side of British colonialism in India, China, Sri Lanka, and Africa. Moxham doesn't go much into botanical descriptions of tea or growing and harvesting techniques, but focuses on the history of tea consumption and production.

Moxham catalogs the growing addiction of the British to tea in the 18th century and the efforts of British colonialists to grow the stuff in the 19th and 20th century. The story of tea growing in the Assam district of India is dirty indeed -- typical of colonial ventures around the world. Some of the stories of the exploitation of workers during the early days of tea growing are horrific. The author also describes briefly the principal tea dealers in England, past and present, and their marketing techniques. So addicted are Britains to the daily 'cuppa' that tea during World Wars of the Twentieth Century was considered a vital commodity.

One of the more interesting sections of the book was the author's brief description of his work on a tea estate in Malawi (Nyasaland) in the 1960s. The book concludes abruptly as he finishes his first year on the estate, giving the impression that a sequel may be in the works.

This is a good little book with a few illustrations and maps, a list of the various kinds of tea, and a good bibliography for those inspired to dig more deeply into the subject.

Smallchief
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Format: Hardcover
I found the book to be a fascinating look (from a British prospective) and the history of tea. From the plant's beginnings in China to its spread to India and then Africa it's all there. What is different is the majority of the book is dedicated to the overwhelming suffering of the people who grew and harvested the tea from the plantations. Even the Chinese suffered as the British sought to balance the trade imbalance by hooking the Chinese on opium, with devastating effects. One problem I do have is that the author spends so much of the book on the suffering of the growers that his very interesting personal story is cut off. It's as if he was told he had 272 pages and no more. I can't see how the proof-readers and editors went to press with such a hang at the end. This is the reason I give the book 4 stars. Overall it's a great book; just don't expect to find out what happens to the author at the plantation he was managing in Africa.
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