That Time England Sent a Spy to Steal the Tea Plant

Tea production was almost entirely grown and controlled by China up to the mid 1800. It was such big business that the British decided that they wanted a piece of the pie.

England sent a Scottish-born botanist, turned spy, Robert Fortune, employed by the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh to sneak into China and steal the tea plant. It was illegal for westerners to venture more than 1 day’s travel from port areas in China. Buying or trading tea for propagation (planting) was also highly illegal. Fortune disguised himself as a Chinese merchant and traveled to remote, tea growing parts of China.

There Fortune bribed the right people and left with tea plants and a local workforce which he successfully got out of the country. The team partnered with the Dutch East Indies Company and went straight to Darjeeling, India with their help. In India Fortune went on to produce one of the largest tea growing regions in the world making a… fortune for England!