72 pages 2 hours read

Tom Standage

A History of the World in 6 Glasses

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2005

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Chapters 9-10 Chapter Summaries & Analyses

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).