Six years after the Opium War in 1848, British enjoy tea so much that they built up a tea trade. This trade represented as much as 5 percent of its entire gross domestic product. The East India Company no longer has a monopoly on China’s tea trade. The tea from China became unreliable. Britain urgently needed to find new source of tea supply.
Britain decided to create its own teas from India. Robert Fortune, a botanist of the Royal Horticultural Society, was commissioned to go to China in search of workers who might want to move to India. This was a very dangerous trip as China maintains high secrecy around tea production. All plantations are strictly off limits to foreigners.
Fortune wore Chinese dress and disguised himself as a woman from northern China. People from that region are taller. He hired helpers and traveled in a sedan chair. His comfort was short lived when he encounter an angry mob who chase him to a cemetery and threw a brick at him. They yelled “foreign devil”, searched his pocket, and pinned him down. He struggled free and ran for his life.
Along his journey, he fell in a boar trap. If it wasn’t for hanging branches, he would have surely died there. He had some success collecting some plants. When he sailed through the Formosa Channel, the furious bad weather took most of what he collected.
He was lucky many times including the occasion when five pirate ships, fully armed, approach his ship. All the fearful sailors went to lower decks leaving Fortune to deal with the desperate situation. He took his shotgun and waited until the enemies were in close range, shot precisely killing the helmsmen of two ships. When terror spread among the crew, they backed off.
In 1851, after 3 years of this challenging journey, Robert collected two thousand plants, seventeen thousand seedlings, and a team of experienced tea workers in four vessels ready to set sail out of Hong Kong. The secrets of the China tea held for thousands of years, were now leaving on South China Sea.