Scientist steals Chinese tea secret, discovers possible poisoning

Scientist steals Chinese tea secret, discovers possible poisoningAn 18th century Chinese tea plantation

An early act of corporate espionage:

In 1848, the British East India Company sent Robert Fortune on a trip to China’s interior, an area forbidden to foreigners. Fortune’s mission was to steal the secrets of tea horticulture and manufacturing. The Scotsman donned a disguise and headed into the Wu Si Shan hills in a bold act of corporate espionage…

Among the blenders and tasters of the London auction it was generally assumed that the Chinese engaged in all manner of duplicity, inserting twigs and sawdust into their teas to bulk up the loose leaves. It was said that the Chinese were brewing their own breakfast tea, saving the soggy leaves to dry in the sun, and then reselling the recycled product as fresh tea for the gullible "white devils."

"…the blue substance on the fingers of the Chinese workmen seemed to Fortune a matter of legitimate concern. What could be the source of this? He and others had long suspected that the Chinese were chemically dyeing tea for the benefit of the foreign market. He was now in a position to prove or disprove the charge."

Excerpt from a book by Sarah Rose called For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History>>

The Great British Tea Heist – Botanist Robert Fortune traveled to China and stole trade secrets of the tea industry, discovering a fraud in the process, The Smithsonian Magazine>>

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