Continued from The Adventures of Robert Fortune, Esq. – Part 1
Occasionally even Robert Fortune enjoyed moments of serenity. His second visit to China was at the behest of the East India Company. He was to bring back seeds, plants, and experienced hands from the finest tea districts of northern China. In disguise and in and out of “tiresome difficulties” as usual, he became the first Westerner to learn that green tea comes from the same plant as black and is only manufactured differently. He learned the secret of keeping seed alive through the winter in baskets filled with damp sand. And at last he reached the heart of the Wuyi mountain district, “considered by the Chinese to be one of the most wonderful as well as the most sacred spots in the Empire” and home of the best pekoes and souchongs in the world. He went up to a temple atop a thousand foot peak and, as with all he met in peace, made friends with the monks. To quote his Visit to the Tea Districts of China: “The High Priest . . . drew out of his tobacco pouch a small quantity of Chinese tobacco, rolled it for a minute between his fingers and thumb and then presented it to me. I lighted my pipe and began to smoke . . . He called the boy and ordered him to bring us some tea. And now I drank the fragrant herb, pure and unadulterated on its native hills.” That must have been one of the finest moments of Robert Fortune’s life. When China’s government put a price on his head, he only just escaped to arrive back in India in 1851, with quantities of seeds and tools, a highly skilled team of Chinese workmen, and twelve thousand plants.