Issue #001 Volume 1

For the first edition of L.L. Tea Spy Newsletter, I want to introduce to you a man by the name of Robert Fortune. He became a spy for the British.

So, what does this person have to do with tea? Well, I will get to that…but first let’s give credit, where credit is due.

The Chinese are the ones who have through the discovery, cultivation, and manufacturing of tea, introduced this leaf to the world. The Dutch introduced it to Europe. The British adopted this leafy brew in the 1700’s.

The demand for tea in the British Empire was huge. China was hard pressed to keep up with the demand. This became more evident after the Opium Wars and also with the East India Company losing its hold on China’s tea trade.

It was becoming urgent for the Brits to secure a more reliable source.

Chinese tea production was kept a secret. The Plantations were off limits to foreigners, and anyone giving information on tea productions were put to death.

So in 1848 a Scotsman by the name of Robert Fortune was dispatched to China. He was a botanist. His mission: to be the empires tea spy.

What Britain needed was the expert knowledge of the Chinese way of growing, cultivating and processing tea leaves. Some had managed to sneak seeds out of China, but with little success in produce a good quality tea plant.

They thought this tall Scotsman would be the answer to their tea woes.

Upon arriving in China he had his head shaved and began calling himself Sing Wa. Because of his height he dressed like a Mandarin and traveled in a Sedan chair.

Unaware of it at the time, but this Scotsman became one of the first spy’s in a modern case of international industrial espionage.

Robert’s mission was to collect seeds, take notes on cultivation and production techniques. If at all possible he was to convince Chinese tea workers to move to India to begin tea production there.

Traveling in disguise he was able to infiltrate the tea plantations and collect much needed data, seeds and even a few plants. Even acquiring experienced tea workers.

Then in the spring of 1851 he sailed away from Hong Kong with 4 boats loaded with some 2,000 plants and 17,000 seedlings. The secrets of China’s Tea Production soon disappeared on a foggy spring morning on the South China Sea.

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