Wednesday, April 06, 2011

For All the Tea in China (copy)

I blame it on Major Pettigrew and his last stand. The book I talked about two weeks ago oozed Englishness. The constant drinking of tea had me wondering where it all began. So, I picked up Sarah Rose’s new book For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History.

Oh, my! This is not a boring history lesson like I thought, but a tale of espionage in a foreign land to steal trade secrets. Rose states, “Tea met all the definitions of intellectual property: It was a product of high commercial value; it was manufactured using a formula and process unique to China, which China protected fiercely; it gave China a vast advantage over its competitors.”

Back in the 1700 and early 1800’s, England had a lucrative business with two nonnative flowers. The poppy and the camellia were creating quite an economic growth in India, China and the U.K. India, ruled by the Queen, grew poppies for trade with China who cultivated tea for the English. Everything was going smoothly until China recognized that they could grow their own poppy crop.

In these times, Europeans were nonexistent in the countryside of China. An occasional Frenchman travelled up the Yangtze for mission work, but the white devil was strictly forbidden.

When Robert Fortune first entered the country in 1845 he was restricted to the port of Canton. Forbidden to walk in the city, he would be jailed if he left the warehouse during his stay. He never saw the 20 foot wall that enclosed the town just a block away.

Without education or a prestigious family, Fortune was destined for the machines of the Industrial Age, but he had a passion for the exotic. He set sail at the age of 13 and found he disliked the sailor’s life but loved the discovery of new places, plants and cultures. He documented everything and fancied himself a self-taught botanist.

War of the Roses would not be red but pink if it was not for Fortune. He is the Double Yellow in tea roses and the rare white wisteria. The plant he is most known for (the kumquat) is locally known as a Fortunella.

Follow Fortune as he makes his way through the countryside in search of green and black tea dressed as a Mandarin spy named Sing Wa or Bright Flower. I would not surprise me to hear the Fortune Cookie is also named after him.