q&a with sarah rose: tea and travel writer, author of ‘all the tea in china’

Sarah Rose is the author of For All the Tea in China: How England Stole theWorld’s Favorite Drink and Changed History [the true story of a 19th Century botanist who traveled undercover in Qing China to steal the secrets of tea for England and the East India Company — the largest act of corporate espionage in the history of the world].

Sarah is also a journalist, food and travel writer; and a cast member of Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys on the Sundance Channel.  You can find her on Twitter as @thesarahrose and at www.sarahrose.com.


Tell me about your book, how did it come about.

About six years ago, an ex-boyfriend said to me, “I heard one guy stole tea from China, you should look into that…” The man was Robert Fortune. The book is For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History.

In 1848, the British East India Company, having lost its monopoly on the tea trade, engaged Robert Fortune, a Scottish gardener, botanist, and plant hunter, to make a clandestine trip into the interior of China—territory forbidden to foreigners—to steal the closely guarded secrets of tea horticulture and manufacturing. For All the Tea in China is the remarkable account of Fortune’s journeys into China—a thrilling narrative that combines history, geography, botany, natural science, and old-fashioned adventure.

Disguised in Mandarin robes, Robert Fortune ventured deep into the country, confronting pirates, hostile climate, and his own untrustworthy men as he made his way to the epicenter of tea production, the remote Wu Yi Shan hills. One of the most daring acts of corporate espionage in history, Fortune’s pursuit of China’s ancient secret makes for a classic nineteenth-century adventure tale, one in which the fate of empires hinges on the feats of one extraordinary man.

Tell me where in the world you are, how did you get there and where are you thinking of going next.

Today I’m in New York City. Soon I’ll be in the Cayman Islands for a few food stories on chefs.  Then in Hawaii to write some travel articles. I’ll head back to China in the spring, Dublin in June.  I’m a travel writer, I don’t always know where I’m going – but I never want to stop moving.

What does traveling mean to you.

Traveling is a little like breathing – I don’t think about it, but I’d notice if I stopped for too long.

What does tea mean to you.

Tea always signifies hospitality to me – I drink it most often in other people’s homes. (This is a consequence of living alone: milk spoils. I don’t drink enough tea to justify keeping it around the house and really prefer milk tea.)

What’s your philosophy when it comes to blogging on the road.

I’m twitter positive. I think it’s a great way to communicate, to tell a story on the road.

What’s your favorite tea related memory or location and why is it special to you.

The first time I stepped into a tea field was when I visited the tea museum in Hangzhou – that first breath of air, the smell of fresh tea was so powerful and wonderful, I never got tired of it.

What do you drink at home.

Barry’s tea – from Ireland. I don’t have a good reason. I think it stands up nicely to milk and sugar – and I’m a tea pedant, I like milk and sugar.

If there is one tea you could introduce to everyone in the world, what would it be.

I have a special affection for the Da Hong Pao oolongs from Wuyishan in Fujian Province – that was the highlight of Robert Fortune’s trip. It was from the Da Hong Pao seeds that India got its world-class black tea gardens.

Can you tell me three of your favorite tea or travel blogs or personalitites.

I love @thetearooms’ tweets. He consistently cracks me up.  @TravelSavvyKayt is a phenomenal writer, a great traveler and a phenomenal friend – she’s got a book coming out soon (not a travel book – a sex book) and I can’t wait to read it. She also blogs at TravelSavvyMom.com

Though they don’t blog, I keep up with some magazine travel and food writers who intimidate me and make me smile.  Steve Friedman is one. Ed Readicker-Henderson is another. Alan Richman at GQ knocks my socks off. When I grow up, I hope to write as well as they do.

Can you tell me your favorite tea-shop (and what made it totally wonderful)

Have you seen Michael Harney’s new SoHo shop? He was a phenomenal help to me on For All the Tea in China and is such a good guy. Everyone should visit the new Harney and Sons, it’s so elegant, so lovely, such a happy place, a glam tea paradise.

Harney & Sons Soho tea store

2 Responses to “q&a with sarah rose: tea and travel writer, author of ‘all the tea in china’”
  1. Mel says:

    Thanks for this article – I enjoyed the book so it’s nice to read about the author’s life and thoughts 🙂

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