This article is a contribution from one of our local Brampton writers who enjoys research, tea and writing and has generously given some of his time to us.
It’s funny the things you take for granted, especially if you greedily gulp it down at least eight times a day like me. No, I’m not talking about a very popular American fizzy export; I’m talking about the very British thing that is tea. I couldn’t do without out it in fact, each and every time I write I have one next to me on my desk. The recent rise in popularity of Japanese tea rituals has got me thinking about the daily habit of drinking tea. Sure, what I usually have is bog standard and made merely out of habit (however, it does get a bit more exciting when you have a nice non-crumbly biscuit to dunk in it), but there has to be more to it than that. When you look at its not so humble beginnings, you can start to understand that there is so much more to it than a wet and hot comfort.
Here’s a very brief history lesson. After the first Opium War, China, the only real tea producers at the time, was left very sore and grumpy at the hands of an immense British fleet. In 1842 their hand was forced and they had to sign a treaty to keep the world’s largest empire happy. However, the Chinese Emperor didn’t let the enemy bask in their own glory for long; he legalised the production of opium in his country therefore entirely undercutting the Brit managed Indian monopoly. No opium meant no tea as these were the main sources of trade between the two nations.
Enter the first real James Bond, Robert Fortune. The Scots out there will be glad to hear that he too, like his more modern counter part, was also Scottish through and through and was eager to get his hands dirty. In 1849 through grit, determination, bribery and it has to be said, quite a bit of luck, he managed to smuggle the best tea plants on the globe back to Britain. This may sound like a bit of a silly yarn but make no mistake, if he was caught he would have paid the place not with coin but with his very life. China’s well-guarded secret was at the heart of their empire, his success would cause an economic downturn for the Asian superpower that would take them hundreds of years to recover. For me, much more importantly, was the fact that without this courageous chappy the tea we enjoy now wouldn’t be the same, it would be pretty much as bitter as a pint of bitter in a traditional pub.
So, rather than reaching (as I have done so on many occasions myself), for the cheapest box of tea bags in the supermarket do yourself and the beautiful leaves that give us so much for so little, the credit they deserve and buy tea that has a well-defined character and a true uniqueness. Ok, you may have to loosen the purse strings a little bit and get used to a product that lives free outside of a bag, but think of that one lonely Scot who traveled to the other side of the world only to be greeted by blood thirsty pirates to give us all here on our little island a wee cup of bliss.
If you would like to find out more about Robert Fortune, click here.