Empire of Tea

Empire of Tea

Markman Ellis
Matthew Mauger
Richard Coulton




Paperback with flaps


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$7.56 $6.80

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(Paperback with flaps | ISBN 9789385755699 | 328 pages | May 2016)


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, and it became popular across the nation from castle to cottage. Now the world’s most popular drink after water, 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 from 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 erstwhile British Empire.


Click here to read an excerpt from the book.


‘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, author of Terra: Tales of the Earth

‘For those tempted to begin the tale of British tea-drinking with the Opium Wars, or with the establishment of Indian tea plantations, this book offers a richly textured history of the “empire” that preceded, and long outgrew, those events.’
Times Literary Supplement

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.’
—Jerry Brotton, Professor of Renaissance Studies, Queen Mary, University of London

‘It’s a story of great scope. The genre of “The Food/Drink/Condiment that Made the Modern World” has become a cliché, and many performances of this sort are shallow, overstated or merely cute. But in the right hands, telling the history of foodstuffs and foodways responds to current calls for histories of wider scope: histories of the longue durée; of global exchanges and contacts between cultures; and of the relations between human doings, things and the environment. Empire of Tea is an important example, sometimes brilliantly told…a history of modernity told through one of its consumable commodities.’
London Review of Books

‘“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.’

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