Any great nonfiction books on the history of tea and its global trade?
January 13, 2014 7:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in tea and its history, especially its role in global trade and conflict. Are there any great nonfiction books that cover the subject without focusing exclusively on a certain time period or location?

I read this survey of the cultural and historical significance of tea around the world and crave more stories about the conflict and influence that came with the commodity as it spread around the world. Are there any great books that look at the silk road, mercantilism, colonial power, and global conflict through the lense of a tea enthusiast?
posted by cowbellemoo to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The quarterly catalog from Upton Tea has included serialized tea history for many years. Archives are online here.

Liquid Jade is a more episodic survey. I find the writing a little twee, but the content interesting. It was recommended to me by an acquaintance who used to conduct a tea tasting series.
posted by janell at 8:20 PM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

A History of the World in Six Glasses has a chapter on tea.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:31 PM on January 13, 2014

I haven't read it, but there's a biography of Sir Thomas Lipton, tea magnate (who popularized the still current arcane tea grading system), called A Full Cup: Sir Thomas Lipton's Extraordinary Life and His Quest for the America's Cup by Michael D'Antonio
posted by Sunburnt at 8:32 PM on January 13, 2014

Tastes of Paradise isn't focused on tea exclusively, but if you're interested in tea's history as an influential commodity you might also enjoy reading about the similar histories of black pepper, coffee, tobacco, etc.
posted by contraption at 8:32 PM on January 13, 2014

Here's a post I made about tea in India a while ago.
posted by dhruva at 8:47 PM on January 13, 2014

Best answer: If I remember correctly, Green Gold was a book we read in a freshman history class that was all about tea. Sounds like exactly what you're looking for. Looks like it's out of print but Amazon has used copies. Also take a look at other books by the author. There's a newer one about tea that he has.....which upon closer inspection may be the same book reprinted under a different title: The Empire of Tea.
posted by musicismath at 9:27 PM on January 13, 2014

A Splendid Exchange is not exactly about tea, but about the world trade system, focusing on maritime trade and "exotic" commodities, like spices, textiles, and tea. I found it fascinating!
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:16 AM on January 14, 2014

Seconding Upton's series and A History of the World in Six Glasses. I'd start with the book chapter, and if you're truly obsessed, move on to Upton.
posted by Shoggoth at 6:20 AM on January 14, 2014

A Social History of Tea focuses on the U.K. and U.S. but does have info. on trade and production. The authors are well known tea experts in their respective countries.
posted by gudrun at 6:54 AM on January 14, 2014

When American First Met China is a history of trade between the colonial U.S. and China, very readable and interesting, with a focus on the tea trade. Quite a bit of the book is focused on the fur and opium trades as well.
posted by forkisbetter at 9:25 AM on January 14, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you very much, everyone. I've 'bested' the ones which seemed closest to fulfilling my goals and which I've placed on hold at my local library. If they don't scratch the itch I'll revisit and try out others.
posted by cowbellemoo at 6:47 AM on January 19, 2014

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