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Empire of Tea: The Asian Leaf That Conquered the World

A cultural history of tea, from its ancient origins in China to its position as the world's favorite beverage today
Shows how tea was one of the first truly global commodities, and gave rise to the earliest cultural and economic exchanges between China and Britain
Covers the controversies of tea, including the Boston Tea Party and the violent conflict of the Anglo-Chinese Opium War

By: Markman Ellis (Author), Richard Coulton (Author), Matthew Mauger (Author)

326 pages, 50 colour & 27 b/w photos and illustrations

Reaktion Books

Hardback | May 2015 | #222387 | ISBN-13: 9781780234403
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £24.99 $31/€28 approx

About this book

Tea has a rich and well-documented past. The beverage originated in Asia long before making its way to seventeenth-century London, where it became an exotic, highly sought after commodity. Over the subsequent two centuries, tea's powerful psychoactive properties seduced British society, becoming popular across the nation from castle to cottage. Now the world's most popular drink, tea was one of the first truly global products to find a mass market, with tea drinking now stereotypically associated with British identity.

Imported by the East India Company in increasing quantities across the eighteenth century, tea inaugurated the first regular exchange between China and Britain, both commercial and cultural. While European scientists struggled to make sense of its natural history and medicinal properties, the delicate flavour profile and hot preparation of tea inspired poets, artists and satirists. Becoming central to everyday life, tea was embroiled in controversy, from the gossip of the domestic tea table to the civil disorder occasioned by smuggling, and the political scandal of the Boston Tea Party to the violent conflict of the Anglo–Chinese Opium War. Such stories shaped the contexts for the imperial tea industry that later developed across India and Sri Lanka. Empire of Tea is based on extensive original research, providing a rich cultural history that explores how the British 'way of tea' became the norm across the Anglophone world.

‘“Tea” has at least five meanings: the shrub Camellia sinensis; its leaf; the dried commodity; the infusion made from it; and the occasion for consuming the infusion. As Markman Ellis, Richard Coulton and Matthew Mauger show in this stimulating volume, history is steeped in the stuff."

"Empire of Tea is an intoxicating brew. Marshalling a dizzying array of archival material from nearly 400 years of English tea-drinking, the authors of this deeply erudite, highly readable and often very funny book have written the definitive history of the most sober yet intoxicating of beverages [...] a triumphant and authoritative account of the inescapably foreign, yet indispensably English, object and act that we call tea."
– Jerry Brotton, Professor of Renaissance Studies, Queen Mary, University of London

"Empire of Tea is a wonderfully wide-ranging and illuminating study of tea (the commodity, the drink, its rituals, its associations) that combines a long-term history of its changing place in the national, imperial and global economy with fascinating insights into how it became embedded in British culture [...] commodity histories tell us not just about our material life, but reveal the dynamics of culture. Empire of Tea is one of the best."
– John Brewer, Eli and Edye Broad Professor in Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology

"Deeply researched and elegantly written, Empire of Tea is as refreshing as its subject, transporting the reader on a voyage of discovery into the complex and often surprising history of the leaf that conquered the world."
– Richard Hamblyn, Birkbeck, University of London


Introduction: Empires of Tea

Section 1: An Exotic Brew (1650-1720)
Section 2: A Cultural Infusion (1720-1780)
Section 3: A Drink of Nations (1770-1955)

Epilogue: Global Tea

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Markman Ellis is a Professor of Eighteenth-century Studies at Queen Mary, University of London, and author of The Coffee House: A Cultural History (2004). Richard Coulton is a lecturer in the Department of English, Queen Mary, University of London. Matthew Mauger is a lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London.

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