Tea: Addiction, Exploitation and Empire by Roy Moxham - review by Christopher Ondaatje

Christopher Ondaatje

Trouble Brewing

Tea: Addiction, Exploitation and Empire


Constable 271pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

IT ALL STARTED WHEN Catherine of Braganza, future wife of King Charles 11, made tea fashionable in England. She arrived from Portugal on 13 May 1662 in Portsmouth, bringing with her the promise of a large dowry %500,000 in cash), which was desperately needed by the King to pay off his enormous debts. In the event she arrived with only half that amount, in sugar, spices and other goods, and the marriage was very nearly called off. She also brought a single chest of tea. Catherine was a tea addict. In fact, tea was already the common drink of the Chinese, but the British, it seems, were slow to discover it. There is no record of its consumption in England before the 1650s.

Roy Moxham is well qualified to have written this absorbing - and sometimes shocking - history of tea. In 1960, tired of living in Britain, he placed an advertisement in the Personal Column of The Times. He only had one reply - from a tea-estate owner in Nyasaland (now Malawi). After Ceylon tea pluckers, a brief interview he embarked on a three-and-a-half-year contract and an uncertain future in Africa.

His Tea: Addiction, Exploitation and Empire offers an eye-opening account

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

RLF - March

A Mirror - Westend

Follow Literary Review on Twitter