Follow the next episode of Robert Fortune's adventure, as he embarks on a hunt for China's finest black tea. 

In the last instalment of Fortune Hunter, Robert Fortune's fortunes turned out to be mixed. Our tea-hunting protagonist succeeded in collecting many thousands of green tea seeds and young tea plants. He unearthed the secrets of green tea production, and returned from his expedition unharmed. But all did not end well: by the time Fortune's precious haul reached India, nearly all of the tea plants had died. Worse still, not one of his 10,000 tea seeds had germinated.


A new mission

Blissfully unaware of the fate of his green tea shipment, Fortune was about to embark on his second tea-hunting expedition. This time, he was bound for the Wuyi Mountains of Fujian province - home to China's finest black teas. His mission, set by the East India Company, was to introduce black tea to colonial India. Not only would this entail the theft of tea from China's most celebrated black tea region, but it would also require Fortune to steal the secrets of black tea production.


Disguised once again as a Chinese official, Robert Fortune prepared to set off on his hazardous mission. Together with his new servant, he travelled almost 200 miles by boat, sedan chair and foot. Over the next three months, he would pass through dilapidated villages, beautiful towns, lush hills and fertile valleys, until he arrived at the awe-inspiring mountains guarding the treasure he sought.


To Fortune, these beautiful vistas held an especial allure - dotted as they were with row upon row of flourishing tea plantation. He watched the tea pickers at work, as they carefully plucked the tenderest leaves from the tip of each bush. He observed them clearing the bushes of fruit and flowers, to give each plant the energy to produce new tea shoots. And he realised that, if tea of this quality was to be produced in the Himalayas, these methods would have to be replicated there. 


Learning from the masters

Once in the Wuyi Mountains, Fortune found residence in a Buddhist temple. Fortunately for him, this proved the ideal place to garner knowledge about Chinese black tea - central as it was to monastery life. He followed the monks as they tended the tea that grew in the monastery's grounds. He observed how the tea was grown, helped to pluck it, and watched how it was processed and packed. In short, the monks' hospitality enabled Robert Fortune to garner all of the knowledge he needed.


Whilst staying in the monastery, Fortune collected samples of cloned Da Hong Pao - a mythical tea venerated by the Chinese. He enlisted the help of children to collect tea seeds, and purchased seedlings from his hosts. As the end of Fortune's stay neared, he packed up all of the samples he had collected. Then, he set off for the Fujian coast, destined for Shanghai.


Taking root en route

It was on his arrival in this city that Robert Fortune learned of the failure of his green tea shipment. Far from being deterred by the news, the determined botanist resolved to find a solution: his black tea samples would not suffer the same fate. This time, he decided that he would not separate the seeds from the plants. Rather, he would transport the seeds in the same glass cases that held the living plant specimens.


By way of experiment, Fortune planted some mulberry plants in a glass case, and scattered black tea seeds over the soil. Adding another layer of soil, and crossbars to keep the earth in place, he sealed the case and shipped it to India. The result was a resounding success. Not only had the tea seeds survived, but they had germinated en route to the Himalayas.


And so, using this method, Robert Fortune began exporting black tea seeds in earnest. The result was many thousands of black tea plants, which were bred and crossbred on their arrival in India.


Robert Fortune had met his brief. In doing so, he brought top-class teas to the Himalayas, and transformed the Indian tea industry.

What next for Robert Fortune, and the black tea he transported to India? Find out, in the fourth and final part of Fortune Hunter.

Read the full story of Robert Fortune's adventures in For all the tea in China, by Sarah Rose.

20th December 2011

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