The Empire of Tea: The Remarkable History of the Plant That Took Over the World
by Alan MacFarlane & Iris MacFarlane
You know you've read too many books on tea history when you find yourself getting weary of that quaint little myth about tea's origin. You know the one - the Chinese emperor who just happened to be boiling water...outside. A few tea leaves just happen to blow off of a conveniently located tree and land in the water. The emperor drinks it and voila, thousands of years later everyone's got their drawers in a pinch about how good this stuff is for you.
For a work of tea history that treads relatively little of this oh so familiar ground you might want to turn to Iris and Alan MacFarlane's, The Empire of Tea.
Iris MacFarlane opens the book with Memoirs of a Mesahib, a chapter in which she relates her time spent on a British tea plantation in the Assam region of India, one of the world's most productive tea growing areas. MacFarlane offers up a fascinating reminiscence from someone who gradually woke up to the sobering truth of what British colonial policies had wrought, in this case, specifically with regard to tea production.
Son Alan MacFarlane, a Cambridge professor, takes over for the rest of the book, presenting an unvarnished and often highly critical look at how the British essentially took over the tea industry from the Chinese by cultivating the plant on an enormous scale in Assam, as well as other regions of India and a few select other countries.