An Incentive to Steal Tea from China

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An Incentive to Steal Tea from China

The Chinese intentionally fooled Britain by adulterating tea to “please the eye of the unsuspecting consumer” (Fromer, 35), but they also sabotaged seeds purchased by westerners. They did not package them in soil, allowing them to spoil, (Ukers, 114) they boiled seeds to prevent them from germinating, and resorted to what Ukers calls “all kinds of strange tricks to defeat the propagation of the China tea plant outside of China,” including selling moldy, diseased, and dead seeds (Ukers, 141).

After more than a century of diplomatic trade with China, Britain was no closer to knowing the secrets of growing, picking, roasting blending, or manufacturing tea (Rose, 28), and what little the Company learned from Chinese growers had broken down, and new methods were not found to maintain or increase yield (Ukers, 150). Instead of discouraging the British from growing their own tea, it gave the British an incentive to steal tea seeds from China.
The East India Company controlled vast areas of territory in India, had a powerful army at its disposal, and ambitious officials. This was a combination that bred corruption, mismanagement and fraud, and when combined with profit losses from tea smuggling, the Company was eventually in a dire financial situation (Dalziel, 40). When the Crown allowed private merchants to sell Indian goods around the world in 1813, the Company lost their monopoly on Indian goods. However, and were left to govern and retain the valuable trade monopoly in China and fended off competition for additional 20 years until that too ended in 1833 (Pettigrew, 88).
While traipsing around India in 1823, British explorer, Charles Bruce, discovered indigenous tea plants in Assam (Ukers, 79). To find wild tea in India just when China monopoly dissolved was considered divine intervention and was a rather ethnocentric point of view, suggesting that India, in some way, was always meant to be British (Fromer, 51).
Julie Fromer argues that discovering native tea on British soil helped remove lingering anxieties of basing a national identity on product that is imported from a foreign source (Fromer, 52). Discovering a native tea plant also had the potential of providing the British Crown income and ensured British taste for tea could be satisfied domestically.
Tea grown on British soil became urgent national need, but the East India Company did all it could to discourage tea cultivation in India (Ukers, 137). The Company was fearful the effect would have on the only remaining monopoly it had, the China tea trade. They ignored Indian-grown tea sources of tea, and, for years, they delayed tea cultivation in India in order to remain the sole source of tea consumed in Britain (Fromer, 47).
India is a large country with vastly diverse ecological systems, and the question of where to grow tea remained. The Indian Himalayas were much like Chinese Himalaya, with high altitude, rich soil, clouded in cool mists that provide water and shade (Rose, 31) But the native tea found in Assam was grown in a hot terrain.
Governor General Lord Bentinck established the first tea committee in 1834. The Tea Committee was to find the knowledge, skill, and seeds required to grow tea in India because “some better guarantee should be provided for the supply of the tea than that already furnished by the toleration of the Chinese,” (Ukers, 137). The Tea Committee also sent a company secretary to purchase seeds and knowledge from China. Not surprisingly, the Chinese seeds did not thrive in India and were likely sabotaged; yet the English at home became enthusiastic about growing their own tea.
The East India Company was now forced to assist in the searching for new territory to grow tea (Pettigrew, 88). The Company no loner had the clout with the Crown, or the trust of the English people, to refuse.

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