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On botany and budgets: a tale of two Roberts

Originally published May 30, 2011

Well, we’ve covered Captain Pidding, and I’m still working my way through the 1800s literature, so let’s make our next subject the two Roberts: Robert M. Fortune and Robert Montgomery Martin.

The two men are fairly opposite personalities. Fortune can be generally characterized as a robust, fearlessly determined adventurer, while Martin was a matter-of-fact analyst, and meticulously detailed researcher. But both are responsible for great contributions to the spread of tea to the western world, in their vastly different ways.

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On marketing and masquerade: the persistently plucky Captain Pidding

Originally published March 22, 2011

Studying the history of a commercial enterprise is, in my experience, broken down into two distinct portions: the long tedium of endless streams of numbers that have long since blurred together, and the occasional humorous diversion of the trivial, the unusual, and the bizarre, that are the natural occurrences within any extended and well-documented human acitivity.

The history of tea is especially ripe with such stories, as it presented an almost perfectly fertile environment for a cunning mercantile imagination, freed from concerns of honesty or fair practice. Having one’s British customers and Chinese suppliers exactly half a world away from each other offered ample opportunity to tea merchants at various levels of the industry to exercise their creativity in order to advance their prosperity. Some were more amusingly determined at it than others.

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