Paper $24.00 ISBN: 9781780238982 Published July 2018 For sale in North and South America only
Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9781780234403 Published July 2015 For sale in North and South America only

Empire of Tea

The Asian Leaf that Conquered the World

Markman Ellis, Richard Coulton, Matthew Mauger

Empire of Tea

Markman Ellis, Richard Coulton, Matthew Mauger

Distributed for Reaktion Books

288 pages | 50 color plates, 27 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2015
Paper $24.00 ISBN: 9781780238982 Published July 2018 For sale in North and South America only
Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9781780234403 Published July 2015 For sale in North and South America only

Although tea had been known and consumed in China and Japan for centuries, it was only in the seventeenth century that Londoners first began drinking it. Over the next two hundred years, its stimulating properties seduced all of British society, as tea found its way into cottages and castles alike. One of the first truly global commodities and now the world’s most popular drink, tea has also, today, come to epitomize British culture and identity.

This impressively detailed book offers a rich cultural history of tea, from its ancient origins in China to its spread around the world. The authors recount tea’s arrival in London and follow its increasing salability and import via the East India Company throughout the eighteenth century, inaugurating the first regular exchange—both commercial and cultural—between China and Britain. They look at European scientists’ struggles to understand tea’s history and medicinal properties, and they recount the ways its delicate flavor and exotic preparation have enchanted poets and artists. Exploring everything from its everyday use in social settings to the political and economic controversies it has stirred—such as the Boston Tea Party and the First Opium War—they offer a multilayered look at what was ultimately an imperial industry, a collusion—and often clash—between the world’s greatest powers over control of a simple beverage that has become an enduring pastime.

One: Early European Encounters with Tea
Two: Establishing the Taste for Tea in Britain
Three: The Tea Trade with China
Four: The Elevation of Tea
Five: The Natural Philosophy of Tea
Six: The Market for Tea in Britain
Seven: The British Way of tea
Eight: Smuggling and Taxation
Nine: The Democratization of Tea Drinking
Ten: Tea in the Politics of Empire
Eleven: The National Drink of Victorian Britain
Twelve: Twentieth-century Tea
Epilogue: Global Tea
Photo Acknowledgements
Review Quotes
London Review of Books
“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.”
Times Literary Supplement
“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.”
“‘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.” 
History Today
“A stimulating and attractively illustrated history.”
“Bearing an attractive title, this book details the process of how, from the 17th century, tea entered England, and Europe in general, and became a favored drink for both the social elite as well as the working class. . . . A mandatory read for anyone interested in learning about how tea ‘conquered the [Western] world.’. . . Essential.”
John Brewer, California Institute of Technology
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.”
Richard Hamblyn, University of London.
“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.”
Jerry Brotton, University of London
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.” 
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