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A Dark History of Tea (Kindle)

British History P&S History Social History

By Seren Charrington-Hollins
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Series: A Dark History
File Size: 22.5 MB (.mobi)
Pages: 184
ISBN: 9781526761620
eBook Released: 2nd September 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.

Readers of my Kydd tales will know that tea was a very special drink for the Georgians. Today it’s the most popular drink in Britain! This book looks at the history of one of the world’s oldest beverages, tracing its significance on the tables of the high and mighty as well as providing relief for workers who had to contend with the toil of manual labour. The 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. The story of tea is a 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.
An engaging social history.

Read the full review here

Julian Stockwin

A Dark History of Tea looks at our long relationship with the humble cup of tea. Food historian Seren Charrington-Hollins traces tea's origins from its accidental discovery in China to its rise to the tables of the high and mighty.

‘A Dark History of Tea’ – as the name suggests – is not a happy history lesson and indeed focuses on every dark aspect of Tea’s history. This book starts with the discovery of tea in China. The bulk of the book is concerned with the rise of tea in China and the tea trade by EIC, smuggling, and adulteration. The Opium Wars between China and England, how tea was planted in India, the tea auctions in Britain, and the life of the workers on these tea plantations formed the rest of the book. The book also discusses how the British developed etiquette, traditions, superstitions related to tea drinking, and even witchcraft, and readings of tea leaves find a mention. All in all, the book tries to cover, as many interesting facts related to tea as it can.

The best thing about the book is that it does not try to whitewash the horrors that have been committed in the name of the tea trade; from colonization, Opium Wars to Slavery. It even talks about Victorian England’s addiction to opium and gin and the resulting impact on the masses.

Overall, this was an interesting book, and a quick read on tea’s history as a popular drink in modern times. If you are looking to read an alternative (but real) take on the history of tea, this is the book you should read.

NetGalley, Sumit RK

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Reading this book has had me in the same mind frame as when I was watching Netflix’s Tiger King. Which is a big compliment trust me because with Tiger King, I went into it as naive and thinking I knew what I was getting, but then the series took mad turns, with drama, conspiracy, and corruption that led to countless meme’s and a world obsessed for that month it aired. The Dark History of Tea is similar, it took me down a dark rabbit hole with each chapter bringing in new element of drama. Aren’t tigers supposed to be cute and tea supposed to be a comforting drink?

The history of tea is dark, filled with opium, profit hungry governments, racism, addiction, sex: assault and seduction and adulteration. Charrinton-Hollins is a great story teller, her passion for the topic certainly comes across which is enhanced by her profession as a food historian. The book is filled with anecdotes which are enjoyable and I particular enjoy her final chapter that went into the supernatural traditions of tea and gives a guide into how to read my own tea leaves. If I must give a criticism for the book it would be that some anecdotes may offend some audiences, (so if you don’t enjoy dark histories this is not for you!) and that there are some instances that the author unnecessarily repeats herself, but this doesn’t take away from the finished product.

If you like tea and the underbelly of histories I highly recommend this book. I really enjoyed it and got a lot more in turn of scandals and drama that I would have expected glazing over at my favourite cup of tea.

NetGalley, Zoe Pollock

I love tea. This was an interesting, informative, and thorough. I really enjoyed learning the history.

NetGalley, Jamie Sutch

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a great book if you love history and tea. It has a bunch of random factoids that I didn't know before! The writing kept my interest.

NetGalley, Ashley Arnez

This book is broadly chronologically organised and provides a fairly well-researched introduction to the topic. It is quite easy to read. You can pick up a chapter and there’s enough information to put things in context even if you missed earlier chapters.

Read the full review here

Rosie Writes

The book is a beautiful, at times disturbing, journey through the history of a drink that has defined the habits and perhaps even the character of a people like the British .

Read the full Italian review here

On The Old Barbed Wire

I am not a great tea lover but I loved reading about the darker side of the tea trade and indeed about the consumption of tea itself.

Books Monthly

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Make a cup of your favorite tea and sit back to enjoy this marvelous history of tea.
This is exemplary body of work of the history of tea, its origins and the history that framed tea . I appreciate that the author gave the reader a history of tea in china, its import to other areas and how it is grown and farmed. This truly gives the reader insight as to the intricacies of growing different types of tea. He also speaks to the beliefs behind tea and its qualities to heal and transform.
I enjoyed the British history here with extensive information on the tea trade, how it framed wars and became a staple of English life that it is today. I was raised on tea as my Mother was English/Scottish and tea remains of utmost importance in my life . When one has a true appreciation for tea this is the book to read to learn its origins. Very well done . I highly recommend this book.

NetGalley, Cozy Cat Reviews

Of course I do not want to talk too much about the book and give out any spoilers. But, if you read this book, be prepared to find out details about lots of topics related to tea, including advertising, pottery, and medical views on tea consumption, while the end covering magic, witchcraft, and tea-leaf reading (includes a guide for a make-your-own divination, if you fancy it). 5/5 stars

Read the full review here

Coffee and Books

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.

As a big fan of this drink, when I saw this book appear on NetGalley recently, I was intrigued. You hear about events such as the Boston Tea Party but that’s kind of it and really there is so much more to tea than that, and the author in this book truly spills the tea on this drink’s roots. Covering a range of periods and areas, even ones I didn’t expect! For example witchcraft this book focuses on China in the beginning and then of course the links between tea and colonialism in the British Empire.

NetGalley, Victoria Caswell

This little book was a bit of eye opener and made a change from my usual reads. A Dark History of Tea takes us on a journey through foreign wars, international trade, smuggling and rituals. Who knew that tea could be so simple and yet so divisive. In a very clever and well researched book the author explores many different journeys of tea during history. The pictures and drawings in the book are very god and enjoyable, this is a lovely little book with lots to learn, I can see this being a popular little book about a humble little cuppa.

Read the full review here

UK Historian

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I love tea and I love history, so this is the perfect book for me! This history of tea from food historian Seren Charrington-Hollins was well-researched and very readable. I appreciated the illustrations which were well-chosen and interesting. There were many interesting stories and I learned a lot. For example, the section on the adulteration of tea was fascinating and horrifying.

I can highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys tea and/or history.

NetGalley, Janelle Hoos

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Wow! I will never take my humble teabag for granted again. I read each chapter of this book with growing fascination and in some instances horror. Would love to see a tea brick. Particularly intrigues by the chapter about witchcraft, scrying and sorcery with tea and tea leaves. Who knew there was so much in the history of something I use every day without a second thought. Overall a very interesting read which greatly added to my knowledge of history and tradition.

NetGalley, Jayne Hall

My rating: 4 books out of 5

Highlights:
>From tree to mug the story of tea is anything but boring.
I find it fascinating how one thing can have such a profound effect on the politics and history of a nation.
Life might be hard but at least there’s not dung in our tea any more.
People used to plan historical uprisings in coffee houses so we haven’t changed that much to be honest.
If only people had protested racism and sexism with the same vehemence they protested the King trying to shut said coffee houses. Again, haven't changed that much.
There’s a list of tea spells at the back!

Tea enjoyment is seen as one of life’s most basic and natural pleasures, but the rise of tea consumption in Europe and Britain is stained with tears and corruption.

A cup of tea. For me, there’s little more peaceful and comforting than a cuppa and a book. I’m drinking tea as I write this, I drank an awful lot of it while I read this book. Despite my liking for a cup of coffee on a Monday morning, or a night time hot chocolate, it’s tea I fall back on in times of stress or sadness.

And there’s been rather a lot of that going around lately, hasn’t there?

While there’s little more quintessentially British than a cup of tea and a chat, the plant isn’t native to our little island. It’s not even native to our continent. A drink so old its discovery predates any written history beyond myth and legend, tea is fundamentally Chinese in origin. Of course, once European travellers discovered it, things changed. Two wars and a revolution later, here I am drinking my cuppa from a mug with a fairytale landscape on it. And thank goodness it doesn’t contain floor sweepings, poison or animal waste.

At least I really hope it doesn’t, it’s my favourite type. I’d hate to have to change.

This book was absolutely fascinating, both for the history of tea itself and for the illuminating glimpse into the history of the country I call home. I took an AS level in history - I still to this day cannot escape Gladstone and Disraeli (no really I bought hot chocolate and the receipt had a Gladstone quote at the bottom) - and the way colonialism affected our modern views of literature was a topic I covered at university (spoiler alert: if it wasn’t by a white dude it rarely made it big), so while I’m hardly an expert I did recognise a few names and events mentioned. However, a lot of this stuff was entirely new to me. And pretty much all of it was horrifying.

History is in many ways cyclical, but it was chilling to see the sort of rhetoric spread about Chinese immigrants over a hundred years ago, especially when you hold it up to the sort spread about immigrants in general nowadays. It’s almost identical. There has always been political power in getting voters to unite in hating the same people.

So while I knew the history of the humble tea leaf wouldn’t be idyllic, this was a JOURNEY of war, racism, drug addiction, shady business dealings, murder and witchcraft.

Yup, it really does have everything.

NetGalley, Charlotte Blackwell

Interesting history of Tea and how it became Britain's drink of choice. From its earliest beginnings in China to the inception of Indian tea growing. How tea was first introduced into England and gradually over time became the preferred drink of the poor. The very fact that tea itself became a currency gives some idea of its importance from those who grew it, traded it, and enjoyed it.

NetGalley, Janis Funnell

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book! It is full of a dark and rich history that most of never even think twice about. Where does your tea come from? How did tea become such popular drink in Europe and the US when it comes from so very far away. All this and more is explained in detailed and sometimes amusing accounts and stories of the dark history of tea.

NetGalley, Chrisana Droigk

Brilliant and fascinating, this book the dark history behind the nation's favourite drink. I really enjoyed the exploration of the folklore surrounding tea.

NetGalley, Laura Noakes

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

What an educational and phenomenal read! Anyone who is a lover of tea knows at least some of the specifics of this favored beverage. Tea itself is not without its own history, but the leaves that make the tea also are profoundly mesmerizing. For example: the different types of tea per the leaves used the make it (black, white, green, herbal, rooibos, etc), the temperature at which to brew the specific type of tea leaves, how the region from whence it was produced can alter the flavor profile, etc.

The amount of history alone that can be told just from the simple act of brewing a cup of tea is astonishing. I knew I had to read this when I saw it, and any tea lover/history buff will feel the same. I have long been fascinated with tea and its origins after learning something about tea that has become one of my favorite tea-related "fun facts." I learned this in my early teens and have always somewhat enjoyed things of a macabre variety so, once I had learned it, I had committed it to memory and enjoyed learning more about tea and its dark past. This tea fact is that the act of dried leaves becoming saturated with the water and unfurling is known as "the agony of the leaves." This book opened my eyes to a history I knew little of but was eager to know more about. Any don't forget to drink a cup of tea while you ponder the pages within the book, it will only further immerse you in its tale.

NetGalley, Johanna Beachy

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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