STEEPSTER BOOK CLUB: For All the Tea in China, Week TWO Discussion HERE!
Here is the place where we can start discussing For All the Tea in China, Chapter 6 through Chapter 10.
Here are a few questions to get you started thinking and discussing the chapters. I am hoping you all will post more questions too :)
1. There is quite a bit of information about tea processing in these chapters. Did anything stand out to you? Surprise you?
2. We learn more about Chinese culture in these chapters. What did you learn about the culture through the Wang family? The ongoing “squeeze?” The references to Confucianism?
3. We meet some real characters in India! What did you think of Falconer? Jameson? What did you think of the descriptions of India?
4. How did you feel after reading about what happened to the seeds!?
…and that should get us started. Please include any questions you’d like to discuss in the comments :)
1. The part about the addition of the blue powder (Prussian blue) and the yellow powder (gypsum) to green tea to make it look “green” for foreigners was pretty frightening. I certainly hope this practice has been discontinued!
2. I found the references to feng shui interesting, since it seems to be a very popular design concept in the West now. Also found the “dearth of marriageable women” interesting, as that seems to be repeating itself now as a result of the one-child policy. The squeeze seems to me in some ways on the one hand to be a very aggressive form of negotiation that for whatever reason seemed to work for everyone down the line except maybe the person at the end of the line, and on the other a way of taking advantage of foreigners in particular because the language barrier prevented them from knowing just how badly they’d been taken advantage of. Graft, kickbacks and skimming off the top aren’t unique to China, and seem to be particularly prevalent in places where the economic or political situation is precarious.
3. Liked Falconer, thought Jameson was a boob. All the more of a dolt for not realizing what a dolt he was. ;-) Casting, anyone? I’m thinking Hugh Grant for Jameson. He does hoity toity airhead pretty well.
4. I was so sad about the seeds and plants! Terrible. :-(
Definitely a sense of everything old is new again, with the adulterations of green tea—and so interesting that this was a major part of the decline of green tea drinking in the west—comparable to the adulterations of protein powders and toothpaste ingredients. And the devaluation of female babies and the resulting population imbalance too. On the business side, the haplessness of the collective corporate bureaucracy to make headway, and the people rising to positions of incompetence, are also universal across time as well as cultures.
And all of the difficulty with plants as well as seeds brings to mind another topic near and dear to my heart: Theobroma cacao. Chocolate seeds are apparently very delicate, and must be planted quite soon after the fruit is ripe. So how did the plant makes its way from South America all the way to Central America? How many steps did it take, with stops to grow plants to maturity along the way? How many miles and years, each step? How many times did it happen? How much of the trip as seeds, seedlings, saplings? And it was done without Ward’s cases.
1. The addition of the chemicals to the green tea to make it look green! Really? Ugh! When I mentioned this to my daughter she made mention of the lead in paint on childrens toys that often come from China…This is what I thought of :
In January of 1946, George Orwell wrote:
“First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase ‘a nice cup of tea’ invariably means Indian tea. "
Maybe you should have felt braver since the tea had the addition of Prussian Blue and Gypsum in the green teas. Makes me wonder what they were adding to the black teas?!
2. I found the Wang household to be very interesting. Four families under one roof with four kitchens! That would be kinda like being at the mall in the food court, all those smells, all that smoke…just the thought of it all made my eyes burn.
3. Jameson is an idiot, just goes to show that anyone can get any job and hold on to it even if they are not capable of doing that said job.
4. I was very sad about fate of the seeds. All that energy wasted, all that time:(
The one common thing that stood out to everyone so far, and totally for me too, is the adding color to the green tea. It struck me that they did it because the Westerners like the very green color, and they did not color the tea used in China. It made me think, though – to this day here in the west we wax vegetables so that they will look more appealing in the market, and we use tons of pesticides so that fruit and vegetables will not have holes and marks, much to the detriment of our health and the soil’s health. I calmed down after thinking, hey! We do the same thing AND WE KNOW BETTER (the Chinese didn’t know the colorings were harmful to health).
I loved the descriptions of the Chinese landscape and the fog around the mountains where the tea grows.
Those mountains have always excited me becuase they look so impossible and amazing. It was fabulous to read about traveling among those peaks.
I got to go to a green tea farm when I visited China a few years ago. It was not in these mountains, but it was so beautiful. There was an open plaza where you could drink tea, hang out and look at the tea fields. There was a pond with fish and plants. Lovely way to spend part of an afternoon!
I was suprised about the descriptions of the aromas of the tea gardens…now that is something I would like to experience….
I thought the legends of how tea drinking started were pretty interesting. The first tale about the emperor who was just sitting under a bush drinking boiled water when a leaf happened to fall into his cup and started to brew tea surprised me because I’ve never heard of anyone drinking plain hot water. I wonder if that was common before tea was discovered.
I felt really, really sad and frustrated about the fate of the plants!! It would have been one thing if it was a failed experiment (which the seed part pretty much was) but the plant part which was a disaster due to various incompetent moves (mostly on the part of Jameson) made me feel absolutely sick!
I thought Robert Fortune handled it with a ton of grace and get-back-on-the-horse-edness. I don’t think I would have been able to do that.
As I was reading this blog, I was struck at how beautiful China is and then I thought about Fortune searching for tea plants. I felt as though I was there with him and the Wang family. This blog also shows how they process tea, interesting…check it out!
Incredible! Thank you for sharing this! It IS like being there with Fortune and the Wang family – so crazy/wonderful that things are so similar then and now in the small tea gardens. (and some of the trees are 300 years old!)
I honestly didn’t know tea trees were so big!
I ordered the book from Amazon and it finally arrived and I have caught up with this group. Hurray! It really is a mesmerizing read.
I was struck by the omnipresence of British Empire in the book. The East India Company had so much control. It reminds me of how to this day people try to grasp and seize power in various ways.
I had never known before that tea was indigenous to India but was not cultivated in any organized way until the Victorian period. We all have an enormous thirst for novelty and caffeine and good drinks, so I’ve read before about the huge popularity as various drinks arrived in Britain: chocolate, tea, coffee. Tea was once like an iPad: few could obtain it and it was a status symbol of sorts.
I also thought that Fortune’s story is roughly contemporaneous with Darwin’s.
Darwin: 12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882
Fortune; 16 September 1812 – 13 April 1880
They both wrote very influential books around the same time. The popularity of these books indicates one good side of Victorian society: the constant meliorism (making things better) or people longing to know more about science and travel and other places. The Victorian business culture may have been grasping and greedy but the amount of reading and the extent of education at the time period was impressive.
By the time of Victoria’s death the literacy rate in England was as close to 100% as could be===a bit more than it is today, 110 years later.
I think that Rufus Sewell would play the role of Fortune superbly.
Have things really changed all that much? The drug trade? The piracy? the sexism? the class system? the unscrupulous business approaches? and the individuals who stand out in stark contrast to the cheap and meretricious attitudes of the Captains of Industry.
Sarah Rose made every little tea seedling and plant seem like such a precious commodity. I love her writing style and the amount of information she packs in without ever being dry or pedantic. There are so many quotable sentences: Here’s one I like (about Jameson): “Reading Jameson’s ponderous declarations on the anatomy of tea is a little like listening to a parish organist’s recital of Beethoven—the notes are in the right place, but the music sounds wrong. The natural beauty of the piece is lost”.
You can read Fortune’s works, which are out of copyright, by googling “Robert Fortune” and going to the “books” category on Google. His writing is clear, lucid, and quite delightful.
Thanks for that tip about Robert Fortune’s writings being on Google!
Yes, thank you for the tip about Google. I was totally mesmerized as I read his writings. It went along with what I had read earlier in the day but with more detail. I loved it:)
Love your insights/background about Victorian culture..
1. everything! the additives for the foreigners, the multiple times in the wok, how much tea was lost in the process, the process of sorting it into good and fannings! the reasoning (dirty) for the rinse steep….
2. the multi-family household, the traveling far from home being a mark of not enough money, the never ending squeeze, how everyone wanted to be educated, how much feng-shui played into housing arrangements
3. india sounds awful, and the amount of bureaucracy is sad – even after being proved a dolt he keeps his job! funny that even in the days of snail mail you still CC’d everyone
4. i wanted to hurt the inept man! the poor seeds, after all that work!
just finished 10 now, sorry so late, and thanks everyone for all the links
it really is hard to believe this is a real book and not fantasy it’s so fascinating!
the more things change (time) the more things stay the same (riding parents coat tales, stubborn dolts who think they’re wonderful…)