With it being British Food Fortnight, we thought it perfect to celebrate the beginnings of tea by paying homage to Robert Fortune…
September marks the birthday of Fortune, The East India Company officer known for introducing tea cultivation to India in the 1840s. At the time, British demand for tea was on the rise, and supply was severely limited with production restricted to China.
As a Scottish botanist with experience in China and knowledge of the local language, Fortune was recruited by The East India Company to go into China incognito and learn all the secrets of tea cultivation. He was tasked to bring tea plants and seeds over the border to enable production to begin in India.
After many years and numerous hurdles, Fortune successfully brought 20,000 tea plants and some tea plantation workers over the border, enabling the development of the first tea plantations in Darjeeling. From these beginnings, tea bushes were later planted down the Eastern seaboard, from Assam to the Nilgiri region in Southern India, down to even Ceylon.
His work laid the foundation for the creation of Indian and Sri Lankan tea industries and helped break the Chinese monopoly. Most importantly for The East India Company at the time, Fortune’s achievements allowed The East India Company to keep up with the growing demand for tea in Britain – and to make tea accessible to a greater majority instead of only the uppermost echelons of society.
With millions of cups drunk each day, we fortunately no longer need to worry about the days of keeping our tea in caddies under lock and key. But in honour of Robert Fortune we feature a Darjeeling First Flush in our speciality tea range, just one of 30 specialty teas from our specialty range at Ocado.
Marketing Manager, The East India Company