Tea Espionage


Robert Fortune, a British horticulturist, is best known for establishing tea plantations in India (from China) on behalf of the British East India Company.

His methods are the stuff of spy novels. You see, in the 1800s China had a pretty tight monopoly on the global tea trade. The British empire was so threatened by the possibility of China closing her ports to foreign traders that they sent our protagonist, Robert Fortune to spy on China’s tea growing practices. He arrived in Hong Kong in July, 1843 and was to make many sojourns into the northern provinces of the Chinese mainland.

He was sent on his journey with little pay and an interesting list of requests. He was to find any blue flowered peonies, to find tea plants, and to investigate the peaches growing in the Emperor’s private garden, among other things. [link]

This Scotsman actually diguised himself to look and act Chinese! He shaved his head, grew a ponytail and became fluent in Mandarin. And all this just to document China’s tea growing practices! I see the makings of a movie here.

Leonardo di Caprio
as Robert Fortune?

4 Responses to “Tea Espionage”

  1. What would you name the movie, Blood Leaves?

    Seriously, though, it is one of the best tea true stories in history, with the perfect last name to match.

  2. Haha! Blood Leaves is a good title.

    Perhaps “Pirates of the Yangtse”. Or how about “The Spy Who Loved Tea”? πŸ™‚

  3. 3 james

    well, there maybe many more stories like this that go on today that have not yet surfaced …


  4. Hi James – I’m enjoying your blog. Very intriguing book you’ve got there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: