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A Dark History of Tea (Hardback)

British History P&S History Social History

By Seren Charrington-Hollins
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Series: A Dark History
Pages: 184
Illustrations: 32
ISBN: 9781526761606
Published: 30th June 2020

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A Dark History of Tea looks at our long relationship with this most revered of hot beverages. Renowned food historian Seren Charrington-Hollins digs into the history of one of the world’s oldest beverages, tracing tea's significance on the tables of the high and mighty as well as providing relief for workers who had to contend with the ardours of manual labour.

This humble herbal infusion has been used in burial rituals, as a dowry payment for aristocrats; it has fuelled wars and spelled fortunes as it built empires and sipped itself into being an integral part of the cultural fabric of British life. This book delves into the less tasteful history of a drink now considered quintessentially British. It tells the story of how, carried on the backs of the cruelty of slavery and illicit opium smuggling, it flowed into the cups of British society as an enchanting beverage.

Chart the exportation of spices, silks and other goods like opium in exchange for tea, and explain how the array of good fortunes – a huge demand in Britain, a marriage with sugar, naval trade and the existence of the huge trading firms – all spurred the first impulses of modern capitalism and floated countries.

The story of tea takes the reader on a fascinating journey from myth, fable and folklore to murky stories of swindling, adulteration, greed, waging of wars, boosting of trade in hard drugs and slavery and the great, albeit dark engines that drove the globalisation of the world economy. All of this is spattered with interesting facts about tea etiquette, tradition and illicit liaisons making it an enjoyable rollercoaster of dark discoveries that will cast away any thoughts of tea as something that merely accompanies breaks, sit downs and biscuits.

As someone who consumes a good 6+ cups of tea a day, I knew that this was a history book for me. It isn't a completely in-depth history of tea, but it does give a good basis on how tea arrived in Britain, the trajectory of its status in Britain, and how the market evolved. As the title might imply, it doesn't attempt to hide the dark and problematic history of tea in Britain, and the relationships between Britain and China, and Britain and India. Excellent use and inclusion of primary sources!

NetGalley, Jessica Storoschuk

Good look at the history of tea and how it grew to the drink we know and the relations between countries. War, leisure, companies and more. Really good read.

NetGalley, Alexandra Roth

From its history to the various fashions in serving, appropriate attire for taking tea, and even a detailed resource on the interpretation of tea leaves for the fortune tellers amongst us. A Dark History Of Tea is a very interesting read.

NetGalley, Stephanie Jane

This was a good read about historical events and I learnt lots of facts that I did to know, this made it a very interesting read.

NetGalley, Sandra Miller

The gore and the ugly side of humanity are show very descriptively in this book. I did enjoy the rich history behind such a common household item. I definitely recommend this book if you are drawn to the more gruesome side of history.

NetGalley, Marriah Foley

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

"A Dark History of Tea" is a history of tea from the British viewpoint. The author talked about how the British first imported tea as a medicinal herb and how the desire for more tea led to the Opium Wars and the increased use of opium in Britain, as well. The author talked about the high taxes that led to smuggling, how people added chemicals and leaves of other plants to the tea to make it cheaper and how this led to health problems for those who drank a large amount of tea, how the British tea time developed (etiquette, superstitions, teaware, dresses), and how tea was once linked with seduction. The author also talked about how tea was planted in India, what life was like for the workers on these tea plantations, the tea auctions in Britain, how tea went from being imported in blocks to loose leaf to the development and slow acceptance of tea bags. The book ended with things like the popularity of tea leaf readings and instructions on how to do it. It was an interesting overview of the history of British involvement with tea and how the harm done was hidden by propaganda or advertising.

NetGalley, Deborah White

This was definitely an interesting book to flip through! Had some intersting back ground stories about tea, how it became popular and importsnt in society! My favourite chapter was the one about witchcraft!
It also had some amazing drawings!

NetGalley, Evelyn Coenen

A highly informative book with great illustrations.

NetGalley, Colin Edwards

Oh what a wonderful book this is and with a very appropriate title. I was always aware that tea had a dark history but Seren Charrington-Hollins has made a wonderful job of shining light into all sorts of obscure corners and in the process showing the reader what a rotten bunch the East India Company were and what a conniving lot all the British Governments were from its founding in 1600 to its disbanding in 1874.

If you have more than a passing interest in tea and/or how rapacious the British Governments were in the 17th/18th and 19th Century, you really should read this book - accompanied, of course, by a pot of your favourite Rosie-Lea!

NetGalley, Jon Jonnson

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Fascinating, broad look at the history of tea

I enjoyed this book. Seren Charrington-Hollins put together a great story on the history of tea. The book is written in a conversational tone and takes some fascinating detours, such as looking at the relevant opium trade. The scope of the book is quite broad and looks at subjects like how tea is prepared, the development of tea bags, and less savory topics such as adulteration. Altogether a fascinating book that should appeal even to non-tea drinkers (such as myself).

NetGalley, Stephen Goldberg

I love drinking tea, but honestly never put much thought into it, where it came from, it's history. This book was fascinating, informative and thorough. I am so glad to have read it and I enjoyed reading it, even though as the title states it takes you to some dark places.

NetGalley, Maudaevee Ross

Tea we know came from china and India and it has become the British national drink, this book looks at the dark side of that drink with the opium wars with China and how things were added to loose tea to baulk it out. The book itself is written that it can be easily read and also looks at other parts of the tea story which make this book interesting and should be a must read for tea lovers.

NetGalley, Stephen Hutchison

A Dark History of Tea by Seren Charrington Hollins is a concisely solid overview of the history of British tea drinking. As the title suggests, Hollins doesn’t gloss over the many problematic elements of that history, such as the racism and imperialism that lay behind it for so long.

NetGalley, Bill Capossere

Tea, a most common item in households. It is so difficult to imagine such a turbulent history and mania which is associated with this rejuvenating herb. Originating from China, tea was part of rituals and customs, elaborate ceremonies and was a thing of royal household, courts and uber rich. The path it took to become a part of everyday routine of common man is well documented in the book.

Unending and heavy demand for tea has led to wars, political upheavals, smuggling and several unspeakable crimes in a direct or indirect manner. The thirst for tea resulted in intoxication of an entire nation with opium. When the taxes were high on import of tea, it led to adulteration, smuggling and establishment of a parallel organised setup for bringing in tea illegally. British were motivated to cultivate a new market and production hub for tea and marketed it as pure as compared to adulterated produce of China.

However, such rapid onset of the market resulted in happy merchants and consumers on one side and terrible lives of tea pickers on the other side. High demand for tea saw rise of feudal lords who not only controlled but owned lives of such workers.

This book is a great account of a dark history associated with tea as the name suggests. Author has done a through research which is reflected both in prose and pictures across the book. An interesting read from first to last page.

NetGalley, Ankur Goyal

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I am not a huge fan drinking tea and thank goodness for that, this book would put me off drinking it forever, skullduggery and machinations that would make Machiavelli proud, this book is really interesting from a historic perspective and it imparts a lot of knowledge that should be known.

NetGalley, Paul Sparks

A Dark History of Tea is an Anglophile's dream...a study of the world's most popular drink focusing mainly on the down and dirty details of how tea became Britain's "national beverage." The bulk of the book is concerned with the rise of tea in China and its eventual import into England, highlighting the unfair trade deals, impoverished workers, and illicit smuggling that that made it possible. Charrington-Hollins does a fine job juxtaposing these unsavory details with tea's image as a refined drink in England, showing that even the things thought of as the most upscale can have a dark underbelly. The Opium Wars between China and England take center stage in the riveting middle section of the book, where Charrington-Hollins describes the appalling prevalence of Opium in 19th century England during a time when tea was considered a far too expensive and therefore niche product. The usage of opium to treat everyone from infants to the elderly is especially eye-opening to read about during our modern times when many countries struggle with opioid epidemics... I would recommend this highly to anyone who enjoys a cuppa and may want to learn more about the lesser known history of the drink.

NetGalley, Chad Guarino

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


A Dark History of Tea looks at our long relationship with this most revered of hot beverages. Renowned food historian Seren Charrington-Hollins digs into the history of one of the world’s oldest beverages, tracing tea's significance on the tables of the high and mighty as well as providing relief for workers who had to contend with the ardours of manual labour.

This humble herbal infusion has been used in burial rituals, as a dowry payment for aristocrats; it has fuelled wars and spelt fortunes as it built empires and sipped itself into being an integral part of the cultural fabric of British life. This book delves into the less tasteful history of a drink now considered quintessentially British. It tells the story of how carried on the backs of the cruelty of slavery and illicit opium smuggling, it flowed into the cups of British society as an enchanting beverage.

Chart the exportation of spices, silks and other goods like opium in exchange for tea, and explain how the array of good fortunes – a huge demand in Britain, a marriage with sugar, naval trade and the existence of the huge trading firms – all spurred the first impulses of modern capitalism and floated countries.

The story of tea takes the reader on a fascinating journey from myth, fable and folklore to murky stories of swindling, adulteration, greed, waging of wars, boosting of trade in hard drugs and slavery and the great, albeit dark engines that drove the globalisation of the world economy. All of this is spattered with interesting facts about tea etiquette, tradition and illicit liaisons making it an enjoyable rollercoaster of dark discoveries that will cast away any thoughts of tea as something that merely accompanies breaks, sit-downs and biscuits.

As a tea FANATIC, I loved reading this book, despite the fact that I read it while waiting 3 hours at the garage for my car to be fixed (it was unhappy after not being driven 9 weeks!). I knew tea had a dark side but this book delved deep .. very deep. The book was easy to read, unlike some treatises on food history and I learned a lot. (I don't take sugar in my beverages so I only understood that marriage in the book vicariously ... slavery was based on sugar in many places so that part bothered me as no tea needs sugar, IMHO!)

NetGalley, Janet Pole Cousineau

As feature in

The Sun 21/4/20

Listed in ‘The five best this weekend’ feature

The i Newspaper, 4th April 2020

As featured by

Bookseller 6/12/19

About Seren Charrington-Hollins

Since 2007 Seren Charrington-Hollins has been bringing history to life through food. As a professional food historian she has made numerous appearances on television and given countless radio interviews about our culinary history and traditions. Seren’s passion for history and food come to life in her food writing and re-creations of historical dishes and memorable meals. Her work has been exhibited in country houses, museums and castles across Britain, in addition to having advised on food history and trends throughout the UK and globally. Seren’s career started as a herbalist and nutritionist, but her love of history led her to giving lectures on herbal lore and the ancient role of the apothecary. Seren’s lifelong love of food and history have led her to focus increasingly on British culinary history. Today, her areas of specialty include rural and agricultural history, women's history, the history of domestic science, dining etiquette and the home front during the First and Second World Wars, as well as food and drink throughout the ages.

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