Spread over 10 chapters, the book captures the journey of tea
from the tea gardens of China to the roadside Indian dhabas.
The author says
tea was originally used as a medicinal herb and was popular only
among the Chinese and the Japanese.
China, the only
tea producer, was always reluctant to open up with outsiders—the
Europeans whom the Chinese termed as barbarians, as they posed a
constant threat to their culture.
Trade was, thus,
restricted to the single post of Canton and a small group of 13
merchants called Co-hong was allowed to deal with the foreigners
(and there was no contact between the Chinese government and the
While the demand
for tea increased, trade became all the more difficult. Various
efforts of the British for obtaining trade agreements did not
produce any tangible results. Moreover, the Chinese government
was not ready to accept anything that Britain offered in return
except silver bullion, which could cost Britain its treasury
Only solution the
British found to ward off the crisis was to smuggle opium into
China. Money came but the Chinese government grew angry and
ordered Britain to curb the menace.
In order to
relieve themselves of the trade restrictions, the British and
the French forces jointly attacked China. The Chinese government
was forced to sign the Treaty of Tientsin, opening China to
European trade. Tea started coming in good quantities and its
popularity added another weapon to the British armoury, which
started viewing it as an additional source of revenue. Tax was,
thus, imposed on tea. It kept on increasing year after year, and
in 1773, it reached a whopping 64 per cent of its value.
Furthermore, a duty of 3 pence per pound was imposed on its
imports to American colonies, which outraged America who was
importing a million pounds annually. Tempers ran high and
British products, including tea, were boycotted.
It was around this
time that attempts were made to grow tea in India, which was by
no means an easy task. The early tea producers in India had
little idea of growing or processing tea. And the first Indian
tea imported to England was "burnt and rather harsh"
but competitive with the Chinese brands.
Later on, tea was
grown on well-organised plantations and Indian teas soon
established themselves in the international market. Similar
plantations appeared in Sri Lanka. The Chinese tea paled
miserably in comparison with the Indian and Sri Lankan tea.
While China lost
its monopoly, India emerged as the largest producer and Sri
Lanka the second largest. Today Chinese tea is nowhere on the
international scene. The book, an extraordinary attempt, records
all the major developments regarding tea and preserves them all
for eternity, lest they become a faded memory.