Robert Fortune comes to Wuyishan

how Wuyi black teas reshaped the world!

June 29, 2018

"Around 1840, Robert Fortune came to Wuyishan, and carried off tea seedlings to grow elsewhere - all to break up our monopoly on tea..." - Li Xiangxi
 
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In her own words, Li Xiangxi shares the story of how Wuyi black tea travelled to India with the help of botanist-spy Robert Fortune and played no small role in changing the world.

Here’s some history.

They say it was during the Qing Dynasty, around 1840. There was an Englishman, a [Scottish] botanist named Robert Fortune. He was commissioned by a company. Which company? Everyone knows: the [British] East India Company. The [British] East India Company commissioned him to come to China to find tea seedlings.

England and many other countries went to war for tea and spices. The British Museum has this all displayed – who they went to war with for spices, and who they went to war with for tea.

American history, too, right? The Boston Tea Party and the War for Independence, leading to the founding of America. This all connects back to tea.

So around 1840, Robert Fortune came to Wuyishan and carried off seedlings to grow elsewhere. [It was] all to break up our monopoly on tea, because our tea was too expensive. The costs were too high. China at that time was in conflict and closed off to the world.

He secretly stole the seedlings. He even took tea farmers with him. That way, they could study the craft of tea. They also took the farming tools [and] the tea processing tools.”

From the mountain forests of Tongmu in Fujian to Darjeeling, seedlings from Wuyishan were taken in secret by Scottish botanist Robert Fortune while working for the British East India Company. Tea craftsman travelled along with the seedlings, carrying their tools and their specialized knowledge – all to break up China’s monopoly on the world tea market in the mid-1800’s.

While only a small portion of Robert Fortune’s stolen seedlings survived in Darjeeling, the specialized knowledge (at the time, a closely guarded secret), tools, and skills of the craftsmen that accompanied the tea played a major role in establishing English tea plantations across India.

The humble tea leaf has played an important role in world history, fueling global espionage and changing the course of nations.

A tea seedlings grows out of the rocks in Tongmu
A tea seedlings grows out of the rocks in Tongmu
a seed on a wild Tongmu tea plant
a seed on a wild Tongmu tea plant
Li Xiangxi's family home in Tongmu
Li Xiangxi’s family home in Tongmu
the Li Family's new workshop for smoking Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong
the Li Family’s new workshop for smoking Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong

traditionally oxidising Wuyi black tea
traditionally oxidising Wuyi black tea
wild foraged Tongmu Wuyi Black tea
wild foraged Tongmu Wuyi Black tea

 

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Here’s some history.

They say it was during the Qing Dynasty, around 1840. There was an Englishman, a [Scottish] botanist named Robert Fortune. He was commissioned by a company. Which company? Everyone knows: the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch East India Company commissioned him to come to China to find tea seedlings.

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