The East India Company's Theft of China’s Tea Secrets

An illustration from Robert Fortune’s “Two Visits to the Tea Countries of China and the British Tea Plantations in the Himalaya,” circa 1853. Public domain

Great Britain's relationship with tea is part of its cultural identity. But before the mid-1800s, China was the only source of tea, which was a problem in the eyes of the East India Company.

Holly's Research:

  • The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Robert Fortune.” Encyclopædia Britannica. April 24, 2017.
  • “How Tea Is Made.” Twinings.
  • Pepys, Samuel. “Tuesday 25 September 1660.” The Diary of Samuel Pepys.
  • Watkins, Sarah-Beth. “Catherine of Braganza: Charles II’s Restoration Queen.” John Hunt Publishing. 2017.
  • “Catherine of Braganza.” UK Tea and Infusions Association.
  • Chalus, Elaine. “Elite Women, Social Politics, and the Political World of Late Eighteenth-Century England.” The Historical Journal, vol. 43, no. 3, 2000, pp. 669–697. JSTOR, JSTOR,
  • Jamieson, Ross W. “The Essence of Commodification: Caffeine Dependencies in the Early Modern World.” Journal of Social History, vol. 35, no. 2, 2001, pp. 269–294. JSTOR, JSTOR,
  • Lohr, Steve. “Britain’s Thirst for Tea Wanes.” The New Yorks Times. Sept. 21, 1987.
  • Rose, Sarah. “For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History.” Penguin. 2010.
  • Fortune, Robert. “A residence among the Chinese: inland, on the coast, and at sea. Being a narrative of scenes and adventures during a third visit to China, from 1853 to 1856.” London. J. Murray. 1857. Accessed online:
  • Fortune, Robert. “Three years' wanderings in the northern provinces of China, including a visit to the tea, silk, and cotton countries; with an account of the agriculture and horticulture of the Chinese, new plants, etc.” London. J. Murray. 1847.
  • Fortune, Robert. “A journey to the tea countries of China : including Sung-Lo and the Bohea hills; with a short notice of the East India Company's tea plantations in the Himalaya mountains.” London. John Murray. 1852.
  • Chandler, Adam. “Is Britain no longer a nation of tea drinkers?” The Atlantic. Feb. 18, 2016.
  • Lohr, Steve. “Britain's Thirst for Tea Wanes.” The New York Times. Sept. 27, 1987.
  • Ferdman, Roberto A. “The Slow Death of the Most British Thing There Is.” Washington Post. May 4, 2016.

Topics in this Podcast: 17th century, Samuel Pepys, British history, Chinese history, opium wars, Espionage, culinary history, British East India Company