Just to let you know that THE TEA PLANTER’S DAUGHTER is on for 99c today!
It’s on a Kindle Daily Deal on Amazon.com
Pick up a copy and settle down with a cup of tea to read!
ASSAM …. DARJEELING ….
HAVE YOU EVER WANTED TO EXPLORE THE TEA GARDENS OF INDIA?
OR VISIT FASCINATING HISTORIC KOLKATA (formerly CALCUTTA)?
Then THE TEA PLANTER’S TOUR might just be for you!
A specialist, small-group tour is being planned for next year, to experience North East India in a unique way – through travel and book readings.
I’ve been asked to join the tour and give readings at different locations from my INDIA TEA SERIES to help conjure up the era of the British in India.
The tour will be guided by expert India traveller, Chris Aldridge, who runs the specialist travel company ‘No News No Shoes‘. Chris will share her passion for the country and look after you well!
For a detailed itinerary, locations, dates and prices – go to: THE TEA PLANTER’S TOUR
MY INDIA TEA SERIES is being launched this summer by Lake Union Publishing –
From India to Britain, an epic journey of extraordinary women in momentous times.
And to celebrate, GOODREADS are giving away 20 free copies!
So get the kettle on and enjoy!
Invitation to the paperback launch of my new novel THE PLANTER’S BRIDE –
Unique cine footage that my forester grandfather filmed in the foothills of the Himalayas and never before shown in public will provide the backdrop to readings from the novel. Take a look at the taster clip showing my mum and uncle being transported in a basket on top of a mule along narrow mountain tracks!
Tales of tigers, tennis and tea parties …. I’ll be talking about the real life experience of my grandparents in India who trekked into remote parts of the Himalayas – and how this inspired the latest novel in my India Tea Series.
The event is free but to book a place please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
or telephone: 01670 623455
My research for The Tea Planter’s Daughter into the Victorian / Edwardian tea trade eventually took me back to the murky world of early British capitalism. This was the time of the British East India Company prising land off rulers in the North of India to grow opium crops.
These were used in the Opium Wars: with the loss of its trade monopoly, the East India Company needed to gain access to China’s lucrative, protected markets, and one of the main products they wanted to buy on an open market was tea. The trade in opium through intermediaries and Chinese smugglers weakened the Chinese economy by simultaneously draining it of silver while creating increasing numbers of addicts.
At it’s peak, it is estimated that ninety percent of all chinese males under forty in the coastal regions were addicted to opium.
Almost by chance, the opium growers discovered that something else grew naturally on the hot, humid slopes and rich soils of Assam – the evergreen camallia. The tea bush was growing wild, right under their noses!
So they switched to tea growing, sending out eager young men (often Scots) to chance their luck as tea planters. Judging from the cemetery records, many died young of malaria, fever and dysentery. Their isolation and misery was more than matched by the dire conditions of their bonded workforce. Lured by the chance of work from the drought-stricken areas of India, they were heded like cattle onto ferries up the Brahmaputra River, and often died of cholera or smallpox before even reaching the tea gardens.
What these early pioneers succeeded in doing though was to change the palette of the British. They were weaned off the delicate, smoky China teas, and onto the stronger, earthier varieties grown in India and Ceylon.
I found a colonial report into the industry that sums it up nicely:
“It is a remarkable fact, in the British Empire that though British tea-drinking proclivities were nourished on China teas, the taste has gradually changed until Indian and Ceylon teas are now predominant. A great part of the credit for this development is due to the blenders for careful blinding in the early days of the industry, the public having been led on by gentle steps to appreciate a good ‘body’ in its tea.
The British people, wherever domiciled, are the world’s greatest drinkers of tea, and their preference is for afine, full-flavoured tea with stimulating properties… China teas are not popular in any part of the Empire, and while it may be too much to say that China tea-drinking in this country is merely a fashionable fad, that expression does approach somewhere near the truth.“
By the end of the 19th century, the tea industry in India was big business. the gardens were run like factory farms and the processing – the withering, rolling, fermenting and drying of the leaves – was all highly mechanised. And those machines? They bore names like Britannia and Victoria, and were made in the industrial heartlands of the the Empire’s mother country.
Like so many products of the age, they were built to last, and some are still in use today:
For me it started in 2006 – I was struggling with the bones of a story about itinerant travellers in late Victorian times. It was to be set in the North East, or maybe the borders, but I just couldn’t get to grips with it. For some reason I just couldn’t find the story to tell.
Then one evening I had a life-changing experience when I went to speak to the Mens’ Fellowship at the Methodist Chapel in Stakeford. My husband, Graeme got chatting to the grandfather of one of our son’s friends. It turned out that he’d started his working life as a driver for Ringtons tea company. Not just any driver though – he drove the company’s last horse and cart van around Blyth.
Tea, I thought. I like tea. I buy it in boxes from supermarket shelves now. But where did it come from a hundred years ago? Was it the same as we drink now, or different? What about the supply chain and logistics – both things that we take for granted now, but surely at the turn of the 19th century things were a little different? I had fuzzy images of tea clippers and refined tea rooms, and the feeling that there was a story to be told.
I needed to look into this tea business! So as usual, I started my research deep in the bowels of Newcastle’s Lit & Phil. Society Library to see what the archives could tell me.
I discovered a world of Victorian tea rooms such as Miss Cranston’s of Glasgow (as in, the famous Art Nouveau Willow Tea Rooms): glamorous places of potted palms and aspidistras, starched linen and waitress service that offered an alternative to the pub and dazzling gin palace. Certainly, Catherine Cranston herself was a firm supporter of the Temperance movement.
Then there were the tea merchants: the Star Tea Company, the London and Newcastle, Andrew Melrose of Leith (whose original salesforce all boarded together). In London there was Mincing Lane, where huge amounts of tea were auctioned. It was a world of brokers and bonded warehouses, of agents and lead-sealed chests, of tea tasters and spittoons. I poured over Edwardian government reports into the tea industry, and was astonished at its scale – 4,264 plantations producing over 345 million lbs weight in exports a year. And I found myself pouring increasing numbers of cups of tea to aid my digestion of this huge storehouse of information.
Britain, it appeared, had gone bonkers for tea in the late 1800s and early 1900s. We simply couldn’t drink enough of it.
Whereas it had once been the preserve of the upper classes, who drank China tea that was so expensive they kept it under lock and key, now tea was being bought and drunk by everyone.
How was this possible, and where was all this tea coming from?
You’d never know it, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology, when I was writing last week’s post about Ringtons Tea, I was actually sitting in a salon de thé in Antibes. We were over there taking a few days well-earned R&R.
Tea shops suddenly seem to be quite the thing in France – très chic in fact. Trendy boutiques sell everything you could need to make a really good cuppa – I bought one of these little tea infusers, which now that we’re home, I’ve been using to make endless cups of green tea:
The only thing you can’t buy is a tea cosy – maybe with the warmer weather in the South of France, they don’t think they’re necessary 😉
In the salons de thé, things are obviously quite different from a British tea room like one run by Clarissa Belhaven Tyneside. There’s none of the ritual that we have – when you order a cup of tea, you get a tea cup full of hot water, with a tea bag on the saucer brought to the table. Once, the waiter even forgot to put the tea bag on the saucer – much to his embarrassment!
Maybe they could all do with learning the secret of how to make a brew – as shown in this film from 1941:
[It’s Hogmanay but Delhi is a long way from the Isle of Skye. Nikki and I are on a search for tickets home, existing on coffee and toast and running out of money. It’s going to be a long last day of 1976 …]
Nikki on the bus
FRIDAY 31ST DECEMBER, 1976 – Part One
“Both woke early and checked out. Wandered around Place, nowhere open. Found hotel so had toast and coffee there. Then got rickshaw to Post Restante (one of million that we got that day!)
At P.R. bombshell hit us – no chit saying we had registered mail. (Got letters for Di and Rob). I asked if could check reg mail – sent to a different building. Asked again at big school where to go – nice priestly looking men; boys playing cricket. Found place eventually. Asked to see reg. mail – bloke wouldn’t listen because we had no chit from the post office. Both broke down and cried! So he relented and took us up to nice middle-aged man in charge of the mail. Let us look through the book. Nothing come the whole of December for either of us (although Asian Greyhound had telexed Kathmandu that Nikki’s had arrived and mine on its way 2 weeks ago).
Told to come back at 4. Decided to check p. restante under name Asian Greyhound – wouldn’t let us when got there. Decided to go to British Airways and see if booked with them. Nice [Sikh] man very helpful, sent telex to A.G. asking for details of tickets – we don’t even know the company flying with, let alone the date! Told to come back later.
Went to Ariana [Afghan Airways] – but they’d moved. So trailed over to new building – asked if booked with them – had no record of it. Went to Iraqui Airways – sent upstairs (like following clues to a riddle!) Nice man but no record of our tickets, said would telex on Monday if not arrived.
Exhausted, fell into restaurant and had coffee and omelette. Hardly spoke felt so miserable – both on verge of tears all day. Set off again – tried Indian Airways and Syria-Arab Airways but no luck – tickets don’t seem to exist!
Decided to find accommodation. Shirley had given us address of Mrs Calaco’s, Janpath Lane. Booked in – she turfed 2 weird blokes out [of room] and gave us their beds. Filthy bare room, dark, with 4 beds in and nothing else. Beds made of huge frames and canvas strapping for mattress. Given 2 grotty sleeping bags because had nothing. Both lay down – Nikki had sore throat and headache.
Watched mouse running over opposite bed and onto window ledge by bloke’s food etc. Both burst into tears! Never known such despair – and on Hogmanay too! Funny Dutchman came in and brewed up some tea – said there were loads of mice and proudly showed us a trap he had made!”
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