From the fourth century B.C. in China, where it was used as an aid in Buddhist meditation, to the Boston Tea Party in 1773, when its destruction became a rousing symbol of the American Revolution, to its present-day role as the single most consumed beverage on the planet, The Empire of Tea explores the effects of the humble Camelia plant--both tragic and liberating--in the history of civilization. Incorporating research from a wide range of sources, renowned cultural anthropologist Alan MacFarlane recounts the history of tea from its origins as a wild plant in the Eastern Himalayas, and details its past and continuing effects on culture, art, politics, and environment around the world. He explains, among other things, how tea became the world's most prevalent addiction, how tea was used as an instrument of imperial control, and how the cultivation of tea has led to the invention of machines and technology during the industrial revolution and beyond.
The Empire of Tea also incorporates personal stories of the people whose lives have been affected by their contact with the global obsession with tea, including the elegantly detailed account of Iris MacFarlane about her life on a tea estate in the Indian province of Assam, the world's center of tea cultivation. Both an absorbingly written narrative history and a fascinatingly tour of the world's great tea cultures-Japan, China, India, France, the United Kingdom, and others-The Empire of Tea brings into sharp focus one of the forces that have shaped history.