Wednesday, 17 August 2011

contemplating The Empire of Tea

Am reading a book by Alan and Iris MacFarlane called The Empire of Tea, and am enjoying it immensely. Have you even heard of this book?

With just the minimum of research, I found out the British title is Green Gold: The Empire of Tea, but that's not the edition I got my paws on. I've got the Yankee version.

I'm in a strange position, because I'd actually like to copy word for word the book's entire Introduction. It's that good. He sets out by asking many questions about the history of tea that I've wanted to explore as long as I've been into this dark, steaming beverage.

As a matter of fact when I started blogging, I thought I'd deal much more with the British Empire and how it was involved in this complex and intriguing tale of the leaf. Instead, I've often been sidetracked by important issues like when my kettle failed me, which continues to be one of my favourite blogposts thus far.

Here are the main ideas he introduces as pieces of a puzzle:

In the Eighteenth Century, a unique sort of civilisation grew in the west. Why did this start in Britain? Why exactly then and as he writes, 'Why at all?'

Not only did the Chinese and Japanese believe it when tea was imported to the west, but European doctors were convinced that there was some ingredient in tea that was beneficial, even medicinal, to the people who drank it. What was in tea that made it so good for you?

How was tea discovered?

Why these specific chemicals: caffeine, phenolics, and flavonoids?

What was the story of how tea went round the world? How did it become so integral to British life?

What were the effects of production on tea plantation workers? And their neighbours?

And the effects of other civilisations that accepted tea or took it on?

Is there a connection between the rise of tea and the growth of a number of great civilisations (China, Japan, and Britain)?

Don't those questions make you want to read this book? Stay tuned. I'm going to be writing about it at length and plan to share my thoughts and questions that arise as I devour the book.

And I liked the way he wrapped up the Introduction so much that I really have to quote it directly:

'What started as a tiny set of puzzles and a scarcely-to-be-noticed leaf has ended up in this story as one of the great addictions of history.'

(Source: The Empire of Tea p.xi)


  1. Just ordered it. Anxiously awaiting delivery.

  2. I do plan to read it, and I'm glad to have read this post. It promises to be an enjoyable read.

    I have the same edition, by the way.

  3. Content sounds great! Too bad about the tea bag (yecch!) on the U.S. cover!! Prefer U.K. cover of Green Gold.

  4. Hadn't even thought about the teabag on the cover, but I completely agree.

    Am looking forward to writing more of my impressions as I read it. Should make for some interesting discussion.

  5. Looks good! And I would read it in a paper edition, with a tea tray by me.