A History of the World in 6 Glasses Chapters 9-10 Summary & Analysis

Tom Standage

A History Of The World In 6 Glasses

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A History of the World in 6 Glasses Chapters 9-10 Summary & Analysis

Section 5: Tea and the British Empire

Chapter 9 Summary

In Section 5, Standage discusses tea and its relationship to the British Empire which, at “its height, encompassed a fifth of the world’s surface and a quarter of its population” (175). Beginning with a brief account of the Industrial Revolution, he notes that tea played a role in both the expansion of the empire and in the growth of its domestic manufacturing industry. Its place in the British Empire assured the spread of tea and it became “the most widely consumed beverage on Earth after water” (177). Before explaining how this all came about, Standage first discusses the rise of tea culture in Asia.

Throughout Asia, the tea plant was used as a form of medicine and a source of food, before it was used to make a beverage. It is probable that Buddhist and Taoist monks were the first to drink tea, to aid their meditation. The earliest Chinese references to tea date to the first century BCE, and it seems to have become a common drink around this time. By the fourth century CE, tea was being cultivated deliberately, in order to meet demand and it “became the national beverage during the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE)” (178-9).

At that time, China was the largest empire in the world and one of its main exports was tea, the antiseptic properties of which helped to make water safe to drink. In fact, the value of the Chinese tea trade was such that it prompted the invention of paper money, although bricks of tea themselves were also used as currency. Tea also proved valuable to the Chinese state and the first tax on tea was imposed in 780.

The association of tea with culture and sophistication was assured by the poet, Lu Yu, whose book The Classic of Tea helped to make tea-drinking a highly ceremonial affair. These ceremonies often recognized the religious origins of tea drinking, with tea “seen as a form of spiritual, as well as bodily refreshment” (183). The most elaborate tea ceremonies were developed in Japan, where cultivation of tea began…

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