Sunday, February 9, 2014

Today's Chinese Espionage Revenge Had Roots in Tea (among other rip-offs)

Darjeeling tea, the Champaigne among teas, owes its genesis to an industrial espionage of epic proportions. Planned by the East India Co and executed by a daring Scot, the early 19th century operation gave the world the thin-bodied, light-colored infusion with a floral aroma that is revered by tea connoisseurs the world over. 

British tea expert Malcolm Ferris-Lay said...

"For nearly 200 years, the East India Co sold opium (derived from Papaver Soniferum) to China and bought tea with the proceeds... in May 1848, Robert Fortune (born in Eldrom village in Berwickshire, Scotland) was approached by East India Co to collect valuable information on tea industry in China.

"Fortune learned Mandarin, shaved his head, adopted a pigtail as worn by Manchus, dressed in local clothes and disguised himself as a Chinese from a distant province. He sneaked into remote areas of Fujian and Jiangsu province, forbidden parts of China. Fortune managed to collect 20,000 plants and seedlings and had then transported it to Kolkata in Wardian cases, small greenhouses which kept the plants healthy due to condensation within the case," Ferris-Lay explained.

These seedlings were planted in Darjeeling and grew into bushes that over the time produced the unique tea. "Many of the teas that Fortune brought back perished. But the knowledge that he brought back from China together with plants were instrumental in what is today a huge flourishing tea industry in India," he said. (more)