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Talking Tea

Conversations about tea and tea culture

Sep 20, 2019

We're delving into some sticky topics today on Talking Tea as we look at the roles mass marketing, gender, racism and modern British history have played in shaping tea markets and tea culture in the West. Joining us is historian Erika Rappaport, author of the recently published book A Thirst For Empire: How Tea Shaped the Modern World. Erika's work as a historian focuses in the areas of gender, consumer culture and British history, and "A Thirst for Empire" delves into all of these areas in looking at the forces that shaped tea culture and tea markets in the West.

Erika talks with us about how tea can shine a spotlight on the role of mass marketing in shaping modern tastes and trade. We discuss the origins of her book, exploring the long association of tea with women and feminine culture in the UK and the US. We chat about the influence of the "temperance" movements of the 19th century, promoting tea and tea culture as a healthier and spiritually beneficial alternative to alcohol, and the role of industry lobbies in promoting sweet tea in the West and especially iced tea in the US. We look at the reasons for the shift in Western consumer preference from green tea to black tea in the 19th and 20th centuries.  And we look at the disturbing use of racism and nationalism in advertising by British tea planters to promote "Empire" tea over Chinese tea, and how this eventually led to the widespread preference in the West for industrialized, mass-produced commodity tea.

A Thirst for Empire is published by Princeton University Press, and is widely available at retailers. 


Talking Tea is produced and hosted by Ken Cohen. You can follow Ken on Twitter @kensvoiceken  

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The views and opinions expressed by guests on Talking Tea are those of the guests and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Talking Tea or its staff.


This podcast features music from “Japanese Flowers” ( by mpgiiiBEATS ( available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license ( Adapted from original.


Image of British soldier drinking tea in 1944 India, © IWM (IB 1882), courtesy of the Imperial War Museum. More information on the photo is available at

Header image “Raw Puerh mid 1980 Menghai” by Cosmin Dordea, used under a Creative Commons CC By-SA 2.0 license. Adapted from original.